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Editorial : Recent family tragedies reflect inadequate support services

【明報專訊】FAMILY tragedies have happened in succession in just one week in Hong Kong. They reflect the problem of inadequate support for community care services. The pressure of taking care of elderly people and people with physical or intellectual disabilities cannot be underestimated. Many carers are physically and emotionally exhausted. When the current administration took office, it promised that the waiting time for community care services would be zero. In reality, the waiting time is getting longer and it is not easy for those in need to access the service. Carers therefore feel anxious and helpless. In Hong Kong, support services for carers are neither convenient nor adequate, and the policy can hardly be described as carer-friendly. The government should allocate more resources and improve support services by working with non-government organisations. Only then would carers see a glimpse of hope.

There are no exact figures to indicate how serious the problem of "ailing elderly couples" is in Hong Kong. However, many community organisations have pointed out that the issue is becoming more prevalent. What deserves attention in particular is that many ailing elderly couples live in poor communities and have little contact with other people. This makes it difficult for others to discern the presence of these hidden elderly couples.

When the current administration launched the ageing-in-place policy, it promised that the waiting time for community care services would be zero. However, the most recent figures provided by the government show that over 12,000 people are waiting for various subsidised elderly community care services. In many service areas, the waiting time is as long as one and a half years. The waiting time for simple services such as meal delivery, escorting elderly people to clinics or helping them to take baths is nearly a year. These figures have not taken into account the number of people who are in need but who are not on the waiting list.

The needs of ailing elderly people and disabled people are often immediate. They cannot wait for help that comes only after a year. Since government services are severely inadequate and their pressing needs often meet with tardy responses, carers are of course discouraged from seeking help. It is not difficult at all to meet many of the home help service needs of ailing elderly people, such as escort services and meal delivery. The government can improve these services simply by providing the necessary resources and manpower. More resources must be allocated to improve community care services, otherwise "zero waiting time" will merely be empty talk. The government should also increase its support for full time carers. Schemes to provide living allowance for carers of disabled and elderly people have been set up by the government in recent years, but many people have pointed out that the threshold for receiving the allowance is too high and the number of beneficiaries too small. The government should consider lowering the threshold and simplifying the requirements so that carers may feel that there is hope and support.

There are many elderly people in Hong Kong who hide themselves at home making it difficult for others to discern their presence. The government can work with community organisations and employ more people to identify elderly people who need help. The government should also learn from overseas experience, such as Taiwan's "long-term care service" development which is more complete and full-fledged. Taking into consideration the ageing of its population, Taipei implemented "Ten-Year Long-term Care Plan 2.0" two years ago to meet Taiwan's huge future long-term care needs and to alleviate the burden on family caregivers. The aim is to build a quality, cheap and universal long-term service system. Taiwan's long-term service planning is more systematic and comprehensive than that of Hong Kong and merits study and consideration by the government.

明報社評2019.05.02:倫常案折射支援不足 須讓照顧者看見希望

短短一周,本港接連發生倫常悲劇,折射了社區照顧服務支援不足的問題。照顧年老殘疾智障人士壓力不容小覷,不少照顧者為此身心俱疲,現屆政府上任時提出社區照顧「零等候」,現實卻是輪候時間愈來愈長,服務不易取得,照顧者徬徨無助。香港對於照顧者的支援既不方便亦不足夠,談不上政策友善,政府有必要投入更多資源,與民間團體合作增強支援,讓照顧者見到曙光和希望。

本港「病弱雙老」問題有多嚴重,並無確切數字,惟不少社區組織都指出,有關問題愈益普遍。尤其令人關注的是,很多病弱雙老居於貧困社區,鮮與他人接觸,外界也難以察覺這些隱蔽雙老。

現屆政府推動居家安老政策,提出社區照顧「零等候」,惟根據政府最新數字,現時有超過1.2萬人正在輪候各類型的長者社區照顧資助服務,多項服務輪候時間長達一年半,簡單如送飯、陪診、協助長者洗澡等服務,也要排期近一年,這還未考慮到其實有很多有需要人士,根本不在輪候冊之上。

病弱長者和殘疾人士的需要很多都是即時的,不能一年後才幫忙,政府服務嚴重不足,緩不濟急,自然打擊了照顧者的求助意欲。病弱長者所需的很多家居服務,諸如陪診冲涼送飯等,其實並不難做,只要肯投入資源聘請人手,就能有所改善。政府有必要增撥資源,加強社區照顧服務,否則「零等候」只會淪為空談。政府亦應加強對全職照顧者的支援。近年政府推出殘疾及護老照顧者津貼,惟不少意見認為,當局所訂的門檻太高,受惠人數太少。當局應考慮降低門檻,簡化要求,讓照顧者感受到希望和支援。

本港有不少長者隱蔽在家,不易辨識,政府可以加緊伙拍社區組織,增聘人手,找出需要幫助的長者。當局也可以多借鑑外地經驗,例如台灣「長照服務」發展便比香港完善成熟。針對人口老化,台北當局為滿足未來龐大的長照需求,減輕家庭照顧負擔,兩年前開始實施「長期照顧十年計劃2.0」,盼望建立優質、平價、普及的長照服務體系。台灣的長照服務規劃,比香港更有系統和全面,值得政府參詳。

■Glossary

in succession : one after another

ailing : suffering from illness or poor health

tardy : slow to act, move or happen; late in happening or arriving

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