MR CHAN KIN-POR (in Cantonese): Thank you, Deputy President. Some time ago, there were reports in the media about people queuing overnight for discs for general public dental services, and this is proof of a huge demand for dentists in Hong Kong. Therefore, we are grateful to Mr CHAN Han-pan for proposing today’s motion which points to the need for Hong Kong to provide more comprehensive dental services to the public as the population gradually ages.
The public-sector healthcare system in Hong Kong has been developed for a long time. A few decades ago, the then Government considered that it would suffice to maintain the basic health of Hong Kong people and so, only basic public healthcare services were provided. But nowadays, great progress has been made in healthcare work and healthcare services have already covered a diversity of areas, and recently there are even plans to extend the coverage to include preventive primary healthcare services. Quite the contrary, there has not been much improvement in dentistry. Several decades ago, the Government might think that dental diseases were not fatal and so, dentistry was not a necessity and only limited services were provided by the Government.
Before the 1980s, there were many unlicensed dentists in Hong Kong. The then Government turned a blind eye to them, and most of the grass-roots people sought treatment from these unlicensed dentists. It was only after the demolition of the Kowloon Walled City that unlicensed dentists ceased to exist. Owing to limited government services, people with dental problems mostly turned to private dentists, and back then, the public could still barely afford the costs. However, the dental costs have surged in recent years, and simple services such as tooth extraction and scaling can cost more than $1,000, not to mention other services that charge exorbitantly. Even the middle class finds it difficult to meet the costs, let alone members of the general public and the grass-roots. As a matter of fact, the Policy Address has already proposed the setting up of a working group on the development of dental care services to review the existing dental care services. I hope that the Government will first change its traditional mentality thoroughly. In view of the problem of an ageing population, dentistry is already a necessity and all citizens should be provided with basic dental services.
It is no easy task to provide the most basic services to the public in reality because dental healthcare manpower is persistently lacking. We have only 3.7 dentists per 10 000 people, much lower than the 8.1 dentists in Japan. Dentists are pitifully inadequate in the Government as their establishment has only 371 dentists and now, there are even 50 vacancies. These dentists mainly provide services to civil servants, and only an extremely small number of members of the public can receive the services. No wonder the public have to queue overnight. I, therefore, support the admission of qualified non‑locally trained dentists by, among others, allowing “limited registration” by these non‑locally trained dentists, in order for them to serve the citizens direct in public hospitals.
The other direction is public-private partnership. Currently there are about 2 700 dentists in Hong Kong who are mostly in private practice. The elderly can now see a dentist with the health care vouchers and even though the vouchers may not be enough to cover the costs, they can still access dental services. I think the Government can consider providing dental vouchers to people in need, with a view to subsidizing the fees for their visits to private dentists. In order to prevent abuse, the Government may consider requiring the public to pay part of the fees.
However, given a shortage of dentists in Hong Kong, private dentists may still be insufficient to meet the huge demand. The Government should actively study the measure of allowing the public to use the dental vouchers for seeking treatment in the Greater Bay Area. The fact is that in recent years, many people have gone to Shenzhen for dental services, especially for crowning and dental implant services which are costly in Hong Kong. But in the Mainland, these services are good value for money and are very attractive. It is a new trend to go to the Mainland for dental services and so, the Government should allow the public to seek treatment in the Mainland with the dental vouchers.
Thank you, Deputy President.