HONG KONG - The government will push ahead with plans to enhance elderly care services in Hong Kong to tackle problems brought by the rapidly aging population, the city’s welfare chief said on Thursday.
Emphasizing the seriousness of the issue, Secretary for Labour and Welfare Law Chi-kwong noted that by 2066 one in every three people living in Hong Kong will be older than 65.
Law also gave details on a series of unprecedented initiatives outlined in the latest Policy Address. These include strengthening healthcare, more training for caretakers and introducing high-tech services.
At a press conference, he said there was very high demand for caregivers to look after an ever-increasing number of seniors.
To meet this demand, the government promised to grant a “two-point” raise to the median salary of front-line caregivers serving in subsidized elderly service units from 2018 to 2019. More appealing remuneration could help retain the existing workforce, Law said.
Hong Kong has long endured a serious staff shortage in elderly care centers. Law revealed that the latest vacancy rate of caretakers in these centers had topped 18 percent. He said this amounts to eight staff having to endure a heavy workload which is supposed to be shared by 10 people.
“The tiring work routines required are always the reason to thwart people from taking up positions in the elderly care sector – especially young job seekers,” explained Lou Weiqun, director of Sau Po Centre on Ageing at the University of Hong Kong, who specializes in social gerontology.
Law said the government would also turn to foreign domestic helpers and use them to care for seniors at homes. He said detailed plans would be rolled out in the first or second quarter of next year as a pilot scheme.
The Social Welfare Department and Department of Health will pool resources to offer professional training courses to strengthen their skills.
Law said the government would appoint extra staff responsible to visit senior residents and act as stand-ins when their domestic helpers are away for training.
Meanwhile, the government intends to use high-tech facilities in elderly care centers. In her Policy Address on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor revealed that she has already earmarked HK$1 billion in funds for elderly service units to purchase high-tech devices.
“A caregiver in elderly care units is a strength-demanding position. We used to have two staff to transfer a bedridden elderly person from a bed to wheelchair,” Law said. “If we capitalize on technology, such an undertaking might be done by only one caretaker.”
According to the latest projections by the Census and Statistics Department, the city's population is forecast to peak at 8.22 million in 2043, with 31 percent of these people aged 65 or above.
In view of pressing demographic challenges, the government hopes home-based care services and technologies will take the load off already beleaguered elderly care units, added Law.