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Editorial : Elderly services

【明報專訊】AS Hong Kong's population is ageing, the problems facing elderly services are becoming increasingly acute.

Over the past ten years, the population aged above 65 has risen sharply by 36% to 1.16 million, accounting for almost 16% of the entire population. By international standards, Hong Kong is an aged society. As people between 45 and 59 now make up the largest age group in Hong Kong, the elderly population is expected to grow significantly over the next 20 years. Research shows that in 2041, the elderly population will exceed 2.52 million, and the number of people aged 85 or above will rise from 170,000 currently to 510,000. With the "silver tsunami" bearing down on our society, the government and citizens have to make a concerted effort. Though the problem of population ageing is by no means a less acute problem than land and housing, no sector of society seems to have a sense of urgency, let alone making preparations for the ageing population.

Elderly people either go to a nursing home or age in place, both of which require more infrastructure and manpower. But the situation in Hong Kong is truly worrying. Take nursing homes. Over the past ten years, subsidised nursing home places have increased by just 15% to 27,360, while the number of elderly people waiting to be admitted has risen sharply by 56% to 37,911. The demand is such that seven nursing homes have to be built every year in Hong Kong. But in fact just two to three nursing homes are built yearly — the increase in supply is far outstripped by the increase in demand. There is also a serious shortage of manpower in nursing homes. As more than half of the carers are over 50, it is expected that the size of the workforce will have to be quadrupled by 2041.

The shortages of nursing home places and elderly services are the manifestations of the shortages of land and manpower. One way of easing the strain on manpower is by using high technology to enhance efficiency. The government has co-organised the Gerontech and Innovation Expo with non-governmental organisations and has earmarked $1 billion for the establishment of the Innovation and Technology Fund for Application in Elderly and Rehabilitation Care to subsidise organisations providing elderly services' trial use and purchase of technological products. This will help improve the quality of elderly services. The government should simplify the procedures as much as possible and introduce a rental service for such high-tech products, at the same time devoting resources to the encouragement of the research and development of technological products for the elderly. But it should also be said that the crisis facing the elderly services will continue if the shortage of carers is not addressed.

The Elderly Commission has said that the government should improve care services at community level, while some have called for the construction of more day care centres and acceleration of the building of nursing homes. Some groups have even suggested increasing sharply the minimum per-capita area of nursing homes. However, given the limitations of land and manpower, there is nothing the government can do even though it has the money. The government has to import a suitable amount of labour to solve the manpower shortage and increase land supply as soon as possible to build more elderly facilities of all kinds. The elderly crisis will erupt in ten years at the earliest. The problem facing the elderly services, just like the problem of land and housing, will deteriorate if all sectors of society talk emptily about ideals, put self-interest above everything or stick to the old ways.

明報社評2018.11.23:安老投資追落後 監管思維要超前

本港人口老化,安老問題愈益尖銳。

本港65歲以上人口10年間急升36%,達到116萬,佔總人口近16%,按國際定義已屬高齡社會。鑑於本港目前人口最多的年齡層是45歲至59歲,未來20年長者數目勢將激增。研究顯示2041年本港長者人口超過252萬,85歲或以上高齡長者將由目前17萬急增至51萬,「高齡海嘯」迎面撲來,需要官商民合力應對,嚴峻程度不比刻下土地房屋問題為輕,然而社會各界普遍仍然缺乏危機感,遑論為應付人口老化做好準備。

長者安老,離不開入住院舍,又或居家安老,兩者都需要盡快增加硬件和人手配套,惟觀乎本港現時情况,實在叫人憂慮。以安老院舍為例,過去10年,本港資助安老院舍宿位僅僅增加了15%,達到27,360個,可是同期輪候的長者卻大增56%,達至37,911人。按照現時需求情况,本港每年需要興建7間安老院舍,惟現時每年僅建成2至3間,增加供應速度完全追不上需求。另外,資助安老院舍人手也嚴重不足,逾半護理員超過50歲,預料2041年時需要多3倍的人手。

安老院舍宿位和護理服務不足,背後其實就是土地和勞動力短缺問題。紓緩人手壓力,借助高科技提高效率是方法之一。政府與民間團體合辦樂齡科技博覽,以及撥出10億元設立樂齡科技基金,資助安老服務單位試用及購置科技產品,有助改善安老服務,政府應當盡量簡化手續、推動樂齡科技產品租借服務,同時投入資源,鼓勵本地研發安老科技產品。可是話說回來,若不處理護理人手短缺情况,安老危機還是會惡化下去。

安老事務委員會提出,政府應加強社區照顧服務,亦有人呼籲增建長者日間護理中心、加快興建安老院舍,有團體還建議大幅提高安老院舍最低人均面積,然而限米煮限飯,土地不夠人手不夠,政府就算有錢也是徒然。當局需要適量輸入外勞解決安老服務人手荒,同時盡快增加土地供應,多建各類長者服務設施。安老危機最快10年後全面爆發。就像土地房屋問題一樣,如果各界繼續空談理想,又或事事以小我為先、墨守成規,安老問題只會日益惡化。

■Glossary

bear down : to move quickly towards sb/sth in a determined or threatening way

worrying : that makes you worry

earmark : to decide that sth will be used for a particular purpose, or to state that sth will happen to sb/sth in the future

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