LegCo Paper No. CB(2) 2445/96-97
(These minutes have been seen
by the Administration)
Ref : CB2/PL/WS, CB2/PL/HS
LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
LegCo Panel on Health
Minutes of Joint Meeting held on Friday, 28 February 1997 at 4:15 pm in the Chamber of the Legislative Council Building
Members Present :
LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
Members Absent :
LegCo Panel on Welfare Services
LegCo Panel on Health Service
Hon Howard YOUNG, JP
Public Officers Attending :
- Mr HO Wing-him
- Deputy Secretary for Health and Welfare (Welfare)
- Mr Augustine CHOI
- Commissioner of Rehabilitation
- Mrs Patricia CHU
- Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Service)
- Mrs Eliza LEUNG
- Assistant Director of Social Welfare (Rehabilitation)
- Dr W M KO
- Deputy Director (Operations)
- Hospital Authority
- Mrs Cynthia TANG
- Executive Manager (Allied Health)
- Hospital Authority
Clerk in Attendance:
- Mrs Mary TANG
- Chief Assistant Secretary (2)4
Staff in Attendance:
- Miss Joanne MAK
- Senior Assistant Secretary (2)4
(* also members of LegCo Panel on Health Services)
I.Election of Chairman
Mr Fred LI Wah-ming was elected Chairman for the joint-Panel meeting.
II.Report of the Working Group on Allied Health Personnel (the Report)
(Paper No. CB(2)1175/96-97 (01))
2. DS(W) stated that the Report represented the concerted efforts of the Hospital Authority (HA), the Hong Kong Council of Social Service, non-governmental organizations (NGOs), the Administration, and the relevant professional bodies in exploring possible solutions for the shortage problems of allied health personnel. He briefed members on the salient points of the Report -
- there had been service-wide shortage problems of Clinical Psychologists (CPs), Physiotherapists (PTs) and Occupational Therapists (OTs). As at the end of March 1996, the vacancy rates of CPs, PTs, and OTs in the public and subvented sectors were 17% , 14% and 14% respectively;
- subvented non-governmental organizations (NGOs) were suffering much higher vacancy rates in all professions with CPs and PTs having the most acute shortage (64% for CPs and 63% for PTs working with the elderly.);
- to relieve the overall shortages, student intake for these courses would be substantially increased in the next funding triennium commencing in 1998/99;
- to provide relief in the immediate term, recruitment of the relevant professionals from overseas had commenced since mid-1996;
- to address the recruitment and retention problems encountered by NGOs, a number of measures were recommended, such as reviewing the grade structure in NGOs, providing scholarships to professionals working in NGOs, enhancing in-service training opportunities and lifting restrictions on inter-sectoral transfers.
3. A member noted that the anticipated shortfall of OTs by 2000/01 was 672 and by 2006/07 was 534 and that the situation was even worse than it was at present. He considered that this was unacceptable and urged the Administration to address the problem. In response, DS(W) reiterated that the supply of allied health personnel would be significantly increased with the expansion of student intake for the relevant courses. Agreements had been reached with the relevant tertiary institutions to increase the annual CP intake from 12 to 42, PT intake from 80 to 150 and OT intake from 45 to 90 between 1995/96 and 1998/99. Additional short term blister programmes would also be considered by 1998 if it was deemed necessary to further increase the supply.
4. Members agreed that blister programmes were necessary to meet the most acute demand for OTs in 2000. In response, DS(W) explained there would be resource constraints in terms of recruitment of teaching staff and placements of internship at NGOs for implementation of the blister programmes. Members were of the view that the problem of staff recruitment could be resolved by employing course instructors on a contract basis for three to four years. In this way, their contracts would expire upon completion of the programme. They recalled that similar experience was found in the case of organizing blister programmes for social workers some years ago which were quite successful. Members believed that with additional resources, the tertiary institutions would be willing to embark on such programmes. Some members also believed that HA could provide adequate internship placements. They were not worried that the place of internship would affect to a large extent their choice of serving in the public or in the subvented sector.
5. A member urged the Administration to identify funding from the current fiscal year to provide blister programmes in 1997/98, which were specially needed for CP as its Master degree programme would only admit 10 students next year. DS(W) indicated that consultation with the University Grants Committee and the Education and Manpower Branch on the funding implications was necessary. Members suggested that the Finance Branch should also be approached for additional funding. They were very concerned about the shortage problem as they were worried that growth in population coupled with the ageing problem would aggravate the shortages. They urged the Administration to explore further improvements.
6. A member pointed out that if blister programmes with annual intake of 60 PT students and 40 OT students from 1997/98 to 2000/01 were implemented, the shortage problems would be improved by 2001. In addition, he requested that the following information be provided to the Panel -
(a) the upper limit of possible increase in student intake taken into account the availability of existing manpower, facilities and other resources constraints;
(b) the funding implications for providing blister programmes with an annual intake of 60 additional PT and 40 additional OT students from 1997/98 to 2000/01; and
(c) the current situation of student intake for CP, PT and OT.
7. The Chairman invited comments from HA on the proposal that HA should restrict voluntarily its recruitment plans for allied health to the minimum necessary so that the welfare sector had a better chance of filling its many vacancies. In reply, the Deputy Director (Operations) ( DD(O) ) said that HA had already tightened its cooperation with NGOs to avoid any duplication of services and competition for manpower resources. However, he pointed out with rising expectation on rehabilitation and emergency services, there was a practical need for HA to recruit adequate allied health professionals for upholding the medical standard. Members were of the view that the proposal would affect adversely the quality of medical service since HA also had a manpower shortage of allied health personnel.
8. The Chairman asked why the Administration had only offered four scholarships if it considered that provision of scholarships could attract and retain professionals working in NGOs. In response, DS(W) explained that it had been brought to his attention a few days ago that only one application was received. Judging from the response, DS(W) suggested that the number of scholarships was adequate. He believed that people had been deterred from applying by the condition imposed on them that recipients of the scholarships would have to serve in the sponsoring NGO for a certain period of time after completing their studies.
9. A member queried why the Report did not address the disparity in remuneration packages between the public and subvented sectors, which was considered the main factor accounting for the general preference of allied health professionals to work for HA. He suggested that the Administration should consider improving the salary structure of the NGO staff. In response, DS(W) explained that this was beyond the capacity of the Working Group on Allied Health Personnel (the Working Group) to review and make recommendations on the remuneration packages of the NGO staff. Members would further consider whether the subject matter should be referred to the LegCo Panel on Public Service.
10. Members criticized the proposal of creating a new grade "Rehabilitation Therapist" which was totally unacceptable and represented a regression in the professional service of the medical sector. They were pleased to note that the Working Group had dropped the proposal.
11. A member criticized that the proposal of granting scholarships to NGO workers to further their studies at local universities on a part-time basis was impractical as such courses were currently offered on a full-time basis. Thus it would take a long time to design new curriculum for the proposed part-time courses and this would render the proposal ineffective in solving the shortage problem in the short term.
12. The meeting noted that considerable number of practising allied health personnel had flowed to the private sector. Some of them engaged in private practice and some were employed by private hospitals and private homes for the elderly. Therefore, the Report was too limited in scope as it had only addressed demand and supply pertaining to the public and subvented sector. They reiterated that the Administration should address the manpower problem from a wider perspective by including the private sector in order to gain a full picture of the manpower situation. A member opined that the demand for the service in the private sector was created by the underprovision of such service by the public and subvented sector. He considered that the private sector would not be expanding so rapidly if the Administration could fulfill its service commitments and improve its provision of service.
13. At a members proposal, the Deputy Director of Social Welfare (Services) undertook to consider the option of allowing small agencies currently served by the Central Para-Medical Support Service Unit to have greater flexibility by employing their own allied health personnel (such as employing part-time staff) when a vacancy was arising from a fractional post (e.g. 0.5 OT / PT).
14. DS(W) reported that additional funding had been obtained from the Jockey Club and the Queen Elizabeth Foundation for the Handicapped for NGOs to employ PT Assistants for two years starting from 1996/97. Additional funding would then be further applied for through the Resources Allocation Exercise. At a members enquiry, the Commissioner for Rehabilitation explained that the money allocated for NGOs to employ PT or OT could not be directed to other use even if the posts could not be filled at the moment.
15.The meeting ended at 5:15 pm.
19 May 1997
Last Updated on 22 August 1998