Several lawmakers have criticised the Hong Kong government’s provision of mental health services, claiming that it has not formulated a mental health policy, and that waiting times for treatment are too long.

Their comments came two weeks after a man set fire to a packed MTR train, injuring 19 people. Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man said that the man suffered from mental illness.

The Hospital Authority building
The Hospital Authority building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

“We’ve spoken about reviewing our mental health policy for ten years,” said pro-democracy legislator Kwok Ka-ki at a Friday Legislative Council session.

Kwok, a medical doctor, cited the government’s December 2007 review of mental health services provided by the Hospital Authority, which oversees public hospitals. The review recommended the formulation of a mental health policy, and developing community outpatient services rather than keeping patients inside hospitals.

“After ten years, there still is no policy,” said Kwok. “Every time something happens in society, we get served with ice-cold statistics.”

See also: HKFP’s comprehensive guide to mental health services in Hong Kong

Since 2010, 24 Integrated Community Centres for Mental Wellness treating discharged patients and outpatients have been established by the Hospital Authority. They are operated by non-governmental organisations.

However, as of 2015, 11 of them have still bee unable to find permanent accommodation, operating instead as temporary offices or service points.

kwok ka ki
Kwok Ka-ki. File photo: Wikicommons.

Joseph Lee Kok-long of the health services constituency said on Friday that each nurse working in mental health services had to oversee 90 cases. Pro-establishment lawmaker Poon Siu-ping added that patients would sometimes need to wait up to two or three years after applying for mental health treatment.

Decreased waiting times?

In response, Cheung Wai-lun, director of the Hospital Authority’s cluster services, claimed that waiting times for treatment have already rapidly decreased in comparison to previous years.

He attributed the decrease to the assistance given by medical professionals across several disciplines in caring for patients requiring psychiatric treatment.

Hospital Authority figures show that as of 2016, waiting times for booking an appointment with a psychiatry specialist range from 38 weeks in Kowloon Central, to over three years in New Territories East.

Psychiatry Specialist Out-patient Clinic
Photo: Hospital Authority.

Fong Kai-leung, assistant director of the Social Welfare Department, said the department would also send 24 social workers and 72 welfare workers to assist with providing mental health services over the coming year.

Earlier on Friday, around 20 members of mental health support groups demonstrated outside the government headquarters, calling for the formulation of a mental health policy, and for better integration of recovered patients into society.

Elson Tong is a graduate of international relations and former investigations consultant. He has also written for Stand News.