Enhancing support for carers
MR CHAN CHUN-YING (in Cantonese):
Deputy President, it is not the case that all countries have enacted laws to protect the carers. According to information from the International Alliance of Carer Organizations (“IACO”), the laws of the United Kingdom define an unpaid carer as an individual, such as a family member, friend or other individual, who takes on a caring role to support someone with long-term physical or mental disability.
In fact, regardless of whether the carers are working full time or part time, living in or living out, and regardless of the duration of care, they are generally referred as carers. A carer has heavy responsibilities and is subject to immense pressure, and in Hong Kong, there had been fatal family tragedies caused by the unbearable stress on carers in the past. Today, Mr LEUNG Che-cheung has proposed the motion on “Enhancing support for carers” to arouse the community’s concern about the situation of carers and support the needs of carers in a timely manner, which is imperative.
The biggest challenge encountered by carers may be the lack of necessary care knowledge. Generally speaking, there are professional care and daily care. Professional care is usually provided by hospitals, social service organizations or people with professional nursing knowledge, whereas daily care is usually unpaid personalized services provided by family members, e.g. assistance in daily living or routine arrangements, taking medication on time and other trivial matters, whereas daily carers are the group of people that are most in need of social support.
With the ageing of population becoming increasingly serious in Hong Kong, the number of carers throughout the territory will only increase. According to the data of the Census and Statistics Department, population ageing is expected to continue and will be most rapid in the coming 10 years. The proportion of elderly persons aged over 65 is projected to increase from 17% in 2016 to 31% in 2036. It is more concerning that dementia patients generally require a higher degree of care, and the prevalence rate of dementia in Hong Kong is estimated to be between 5% and 8% among persons aged over 65 and as high as between 20% and 30% among those aged over 80. Although there are now organizations providing support services for persons with dementia and their carers, the coverage of these schemes is rather limited. I hope that similar support can eventually be provided in every district.
I have also noticed that in February this year when the COVID-19 epidemic was rampant across the globe, the World Health Organization (“WHO”) launched the new mDementia handbook. It outlines how to strengthen dementia prevention and carer support programmes, and addresses the physical and mental health impacts associated with caring for people with dementia.
Under the epidemic situation, many social services have been interrupted intermittently and online support seemed more reliable. Taking France as an example, the French Government sponsored voluntary agencies to provide an online platform offering six courses relating to carers and the contents involved new regulations as well as financial and psychological support. While establishing a smart government in Hong Kong, should the support and backup for carers progress with time to provide carers with digital support similar to those provided by WHO and France?
In addition to family members, foreign domestic helpers (“FDHs”) are hired by many families in Hong Kong to take care of the elderly and FDHs with nursing knowledge are greatly welcomed by employers. The motion mentions “expanding the quota and scope of the Pilot Scheme on Training for Foreign Domestic Helpers in Elderly Care …with a view to reducing the caring pressure on carers”, I absolutely agree to this point.
What I mentioned just now mainly seeks to reduce the pressure on carers through professional training. But if the care recipients have to incur regular medical expenses of considerable amounts, this will impose even greater psychological pressure on the carers. Fortunately, the Government has implemented the Community Care Fund Medical Assistance Programmes since August 2017 to provide subsidies for eligible patients to purchase expensive drugs, in the hope of relieve their pressure.
Nevertheless, carers have to face challenges and difficulties that may only be experienced by their peers. There are many community organizations that allow people sharing the same predicament to support and encourage one another, hoping that they will remain positive. Can the Government provide the necessary venues and other support for such activities?Deputy President, in conclusion, as the general direction of the motion proposed by Mr LEUNG is absolutely right, I will support it. I so submit.