【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.
in succession : one after another
ailing : suffering from illness or poor health
tardy : slow to act, move or happen; late in happening or arriving