A government report has suggested decreasing the number of cases taken up by mental health service workers, and partnering public facilities with private doctors to treat the mentally ill in Hong Kong.

In its report released on Tuesday, the Food and Health Bureau’s Review Committee on Mental Health said that each case manager should only monitor 40 patients with severe mental illnesses. Currently, the ratio is one manager to 47 patients.

The Hospital Authority building. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The Hospital Authority – the government body managing the city’s public hospitals – launched the Case Management Programme in 2010 to pair patients with mental health professionals who would develop a personalised care plan for them.

However, the report did not specify how the city’s current shortage of mental health workers in the public sector could be alleviated.

See also: Lawmakers criticise gov’t for lack of mental health policy and long waiting times for treatment

“In the course of the review… the government has already introduced a number of measures to strengthen the provision of mental health services,” said Secretary for Food and Health Ko Wing-man at the report’s release.

Ko chairs the Review Committee on Mental Health, which was established in 2013 with the stated aim of “mapping out the future direction for development of mental health services in Hong Kong.”

“More funding has been provided to the Hospital Authority, with the mental health budget increased by almost 40 per cent from about HK$3.4 billion in 2011-12 to about HK$4.7 billion in 2016-17,” said Ko.

“The manpower for psychiatric services has also increased by about 15 per cent in the past five years.”

Public-private partnerships

In order to reduce waiting times for treatment, the committee asked the Hospital Authority in the report to explore the possibility of partnering with private medical practitioners to manage patients with common mental disorders.

Ko Wing-man. File Photo: Gov HK.

“[The Hospital Authority] should work out the service delivery model of pilot common mental disorder public-private partnerships (CMD PPP) as early as possible with a view to rolling out the CMD PPP by 2018.”

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

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

The report also advised against the use of community treatment orders – legal orders forcing the mentally ill to receive treatment involuntarily – currently employed in countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom.

Calling these orders a “highly sensitive and complex issue,” the report said that they curtailed civil liberties without evidence that they would prevent accidents involving mentally ill patients.

“The review committee considers it prudent to further study the applicability of community treatment orders in Hong Kong when needs arise.”

Elson Tong

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