Council meeting-II.Motion Review & improve HK’s dental service system & manpower needs



Deputy President, no matter how highly a person is concerned about dental health, he will certainly have dental problems that need to be dealt with as he ages. With the ageing of the population in Hong Kong, the demand for dental services is bound to increase, and coupled with the chronic shortage of dentists, dental problems untreated for a prolonged period of time have already affected people’s quality of life direct.

At present, the waiting time for the general check-up service provided to the public at public dental clinics takes as long as 12 to 18 months; for treatment such as root canal treatment or fillings, it takes even a longer waiting time of 39 months. The excessively long waiting time has caused serious delays and members of the public have missed the golden period of treatment.

Many Members have mentioned that since September last year, the Government has implemented the “preliminary registration” arrangement at six dental clinics under the Department of Health, whereby the staff start to register for the patients in the early hours of the morning to save the public the ordeals of having to queue overnight for a disc. But this arrangement has obtained poor results. On the one hand, people who successfully obtained a disc have to return to the clinic again for formal registration; and on the other hand, people who could not obtain a disc have to wait until discs are distributed for the next session. The scenes of elderly or grass-roots people queuing overnight for a disc only make people think about why the public have to suffer so badly when they wish to be provided with such basic healthcare services. Also, this will inevitably make people think that since Hong Kong has claimed to be developing into a smart city, why should these people be made to queue overnight for a disc? Why is this arrangement not replaced by more convenient, user-friendly options, such as telephone booking and online registration?

Although the Government has introduced the Elderly Dental Assistance Programme and the Elderly Health Care Voucher Scheme to provide subsidies for the elderly to receive private dental care services, the amount of subsidies disbursed under these two schemes is entirely not enough to cover the expensive costs of private dental services.  I believe people who have visited private dental clinics all know that it costs hundreds or even thousands of dollars just to take an X-ray of the teeth before any surgery is performed.  The $2,000-worth health care vouchers a year as mentioned by the Bureau earlier may only be enough for the consultation fee for one visit or just half a visit.

In this year’s Policy Address, the Chief Executive mentioned the setting up of a working group on the development of dental care services to comprehensively review the dental care services provided or subsidized by the Government, in order for Hong Kong to have quality dental services and a highly effective healthcare system. I think this objective is worthy of support. Yet, as of the end of last year―as Members have mentioned many times―there were only some 2 500 registered dentists under the General Register in Hong Kong, and the dentist-to-population ratio―the method of calculation varies―was 1:2 900, i.e. only 30-odd dentists per 100 000 population. Compared with 30 developed countries or regions, Hong Kong ranked the third last. In many developed countries, such as the United Kingdom, dentistry has been incorporated into the national healthcare service system, under which dental services are fully or largely subsidized for all low-incomers. In Hong Kong, however, dental services are mainly provided by the private sector, and 90% of dentists practise in the private sector. Public dental clinics―as Members also mentioned many times earlier―are primarily provided to serve civil servants and eligible persons, and only 11 dental clinics are open one day, or two and a half days, a week to provide services to the public. A few dozens of discs are distributed each day, which means only 400 discs a week. Therefore, the problem of people having to travel to other districts or queuing overnight for dental treatment is exactly a reflection of the very backward public dental services in Hong Kong.

The Faculty of Dentistry in Hong Kong has all along been ranked among the top internationally, and our local dentists are also the world’s best. But in Hong Kong, only The University of Hong Kong offers a degree programme in dentistry, and we are lagging far behind other regions. The Secretary for Health said earlier that the number of dentistry places will be increased to 90, but as it takes six years to train up a dentist, it means that it will take at least six years for results to be seen. The Government should draw up a definitive timetable for reviewing the manpower resources for dental services in Hong Kong, such as conducting a medium-scale review every five years and a large-scale one every 10 years. The Government should also fill the gap through such measures as increasing the number of places, training, and admitting qualified non-local dentists, and even speed up the pace of public-private partnership in order to cope with population ageing and the increasing public needs for oral health.

Deputy President, I am very grateful to Mr CHAN Han-pan for proposing this motion to urge the Government to comprehensively review and improve Hong Kong’s dental service system and manpower support. I will also support the amendments proposed by the four Members.

Deputy President, I so submit.