Hong Kong Budget 2018-2019

Hong Kong government urged to allocate extra HK$7 billion for mental health services

Group marches to government headquarters to urge Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po to spend more on support services in coming budget

PUBLISHED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 5:52pm
UPDATED : Monday, 19 February, 2018, 11:23pm

Hong Kong’s finance chief has been urged to allocate an extra HK$7 billion for mental health support services in his next budget, as patient groups slammed the current levels of spending for lagging behind most developed countries.

The Alliance on Advocating Mental Health Policy, which marched to government headquarters on Monday, said authorities should address the difficulties faced by residents with mental illnesses, particularly amid a relatively high suicide rate among senior residents and a spike in the number of young people killing themselves.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po will deliver his budget next Wednesday as the administration is set to reap a massive surplus of about HK$160 billion this year.

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“Hong Kong currently has only spent HK$5.7 billion – amounting to around 0.22 per cent of GDP – on mental health … and the level is lagging behind a lot of developed countries,” said Tim Pang Hung-cheong of the alliance, which consists of nine patient groups and NGOs, including the Society for Community Organisation.

Britain has been spending 0.7 per cent of its gross domestic product on mental health support services, while Australia has allocated 0.4 per cent.

The alliance called on the government to spend an extra HK$7 billion – 0.5 per cent of the GDP – in the new budget to improve community care support for former patients by strengthening the Social Welfare Department’s Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness in different districts.

“There is a huge demand for this kind of community support, especially by those recovering patients who are living alone, as well as elderly residents,” Pang said, citing a previous study which found 30 per cent of seniors had symptoms of depression.

“The demand is set to rise amid the fast-greying population.”

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Data from the Department of Health showed that 37,634 people with mental and behavioural disorders were discharged from local hospitals in 2015.

The group called on the government to allocate more medical resources to allow flexible hours at clinics, so formerly mentally ill patients would not risk losing their jobs because of regular medical appointments.

The government has established the Advisory Committee on Mental Health – chaired by former justice secretary and senior counsel Wong Yan-lung – to assist the administration in developing policies, strategies and measures. These are aimed at enhancing mental health services in Hong Kong and following up on the implementation of the recommendations of the 2017 Mental Health Review Report.

The alliance hoped the government would reaffirm its commitment to the matter by funding relevant coordination and support in the budget.