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LCQ6: Dental services for elderly

     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a reply by the Secretary for Food and Health, Dr York Chow, in the Legislative Council today (October 19):


     The present situation of poverty in Hong Kong has aroused public concern.  Apart from the problem that poor families suffer from malnutrition, hundreds of thousands of elderly persons also suffer from serious dental problems.  As revealed in an oral health survey conducted by the Government in 2001, among the 65-year-old and above institutionalised older persons (IOPs), 76% had fewer than 20 teeth left, which was the minimum number of teeth for minimum level of function, and 27% IOPs had no tooth at all (edentulous).  It was also found that among the 65 to 74-year old non-institutionalised older persons (NOPs), about 50% of them had fewer than 20 teeth left and 8% NOPs were edentulous.  Most of them cannot afford to pay for dental treatment, thus affecting their health and quality of life.  In this connection, will the executive authorities inform this Council:

(a) given that a recent survey conducted by a local organisation has found that working-poor households cannot afford to buy nutritious food, what measures the authorities have to address this problem, and whether they will consider providing subsistence allowances to the working poor; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that; given that community canteens have all along been offering assistance to the persons in need, whether the authorities will increase the amount of subsidies for providing such services; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;  

(b) given that the Community Care Fund (CCF) announced earlier that $170 million would be reserved in 2011-2012 for conducting a study on the feasibility of three programmes (including the provision of dental services for the elderly such as denture-fixing, etc.), of the amount of funding reserved for the study on the provision of for denture-fixing service; of the maximum amount of funding that CCF may allocate to the provision of denture-fixing service and the estimated number of elderly persons who will benefit from such service; whether CCF will examine the criteria for providing subsidies; when such study is anticipated to be completed and such service provided; whether the authorities will consider including denture-fixing service, etc. in the scope of regular dental care services, and expanding the coverage of the "Pilot Project on Outreach Primary Dental Care Services for the Elderly in Residential Care Homes and Day Care Centres", with a view to providing the elderly in need with comprehensive subsidised dental services (including denture-fixing and tooth-filling services); and

(c) whether the authorities will reconsider the re-establishment of the Commission on Poverty which is led by high-ranking officials; if they will, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



(a) At present, the Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA) Scheme already provides cash assistance to families which cannot support themselves financially to help them meet basic needs, including expenses on food.  Besides, the Social Welfare Department (SWD)'s short-term food assistance service projects (the projects) can immediately and directly provide food to persons who have difficulty coping with their food expenditure in the short term.  Operators of the projects will take into account food nutrition when providing the services.

     To continue the service and introduce improvement, such as providing more food varieties and fresh food, the Labour and Welfare Bureau plans to seek the approval of the Legislative Council towards the end of this year for using the $100 million already earmarked in the Budget this year.  SWD will closely monitor the operation of this service.  If necessary, the Government will further inject $100 million to the service.

     Apart from subsidising the services mentioned above, the Government also encourages non-governmental organisations (NGOs) to provide food assistance in different ways, including operating community canteens.  The Partnership Fund for the Disadvantaged also provides funding support for NGOs to run these services in partnership with the business sector.

(b) The Government's oral health policy seeks to improve oral health and prevent dental diseases through promotion and education, thereby raising public awareness of oral health, and facilitating the development of proper oral health habits.  According to a territory-wide oral health survey conducted by the Department of Health (DH) in 2001 in accordance with the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the oral health status of the elderly population in Hong Kong compared favourably to that of many developed countries.  For instance, about 9% of the non-institutionalised older persons aged between 65 and 74 were found teethless, which was far lower than the percentage recorded in other developed countries.  DH is now conducting another territory-wide oral health survey to keep track of the oral health status of our population.

     Elderly people residing in residential care homes or receiving services in day care centres are often prevented from accessing conventional dental care services due to their frail physical conditions.  In the light of this, the Government has launched a pilot project, in collaboration with NGOs for a period of three years starting from April 2011, to provide them with outreach primary dental care and oral health care services including dental check-up, scaling, polishing, etc.  For those in need of follow-up curative treatments, participating NGOs will provide the necessary treatments and, where necessary, arrange to apply for dental grant under the CSSA Scheme or to provide financial assistance to cases in need.  We envisage that the pilot project can provide over 100 000 attendances benefiting some 80 000 elderly in residential care homes and day care centres.  The Government will monitor the implementation of the project and conduct a review after accumulating experience on its operation.

     The Steering Committee on the Community Care Fund has reserved $100 million for implementing the proposed programme to provide financial assistance on dental services (including dentures) for the elderly.  The Medical Sub-committee under it has set up a task group to devise the specifics of the programme, including target beneficiaries, scope and level of assistance, mode of operation, etc, with a view to initiating the programme as soon as possible to provide services to needy elderly.   The Steering Committee on the Community Care Fund will announce details of the programme after they have been formulated.

(c) The Government attaches great importance to poverty alleviation.  With the conclusion of work of the former Commission on Poverty (CoP), the Government set up in October 2007 the Task Force on Poverty (TFP), headed by the Secretary for Labour and Welfare and comprising senior officials from relevant bureaux/departments, to monitor the progress in implementing the recommendations made by the former CoP and to co-ordinate efforts across the Government in poverty alleviation.  Most of the 53 recommendations made by CoP have been or are being implemented.  We consider the current arrangement appropriate and thus have no plan to re-establish CoP.  The Government will continue to closely monitor the poverty situation in Hong Kong and explore new measures to help alleviate poverty.

     Thank you, President.

Ends/Wednesday, October 19, 2011
Issued at HKT 14:05


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