Dental Health

Hong Kong to arrange on-line public dental reserving system by this 12 months, however well being official warns towards ‘utopian’ expectation of no queuing

Hong Kong health authorities have said an online booking system for government-run dental clinics is due for completion within this year, but cautioned that eliminating queuing is a “utopian” notion.

Dr Ronald Lam Man-kin, the director of health, said on Friday the government was discussing the online booking system with contractors.

He added authorities anticipated the elderly might not be familiar with the online system, and help stations would be set up to assist with the booking.

“Under the shortage of resources and supply, distributing preregistration tickets is not the most ideal arrangement,” Secretary for Health Lo Chung-mau said on Friday.

“In the long term, the best case scenario, of course, will be not needing to queue up. It is a utopian idea that all medical services will be available right away without the need to queue up.”

The preregistration arrangement was introduced in 2022 so that patients would no longer need to queue overnight for dental services, Lo said.

Health chief Lo Chung-mau has said the public dental preregistration arrangement was introduced in 2022 to ease overnight queuing for services. Photo: Elson Li

Both Lo and Lam were addressing the issue of long waiting times at the dental clinics at a public hearing of the Legislative Council’s Public Accounts Committee.

The Audit Commission last month found that some patients had queued for seven hours at four clinics in December 2023 and February this year.

Before 2022, patients were often seen queuing in the early hours to secure a place that would be available when the clinics open during the daytime.

The commission urged the government to increase clinic quotas to pre-Covid levels of about 40,000 spaces a year.

It found that quotas had decreased from 40,322 in the 2018-19 financial year to 20,337 in 2022-23, while public demand increased from filling 92.3 per cent of all spots to 99.2 per cent.

Currently, the only free dental services available to Hongkongers are for emergency pain relief and extractions, provided by the Department of Health at 11 clinics not more than twice a week per facility.

At nine of the 11 clinics, preliminary registration for emergency consultations begins at midnight and ends when the quota is filled. Patients must complete another registration in person and return for the appointment during the day.

Complaints have emerged over the years that patients have been forced to queue for hours to secure spots for public dental services, while many residents cannot afford private dental care.

Authorities earlier said the quota of the dental clinics in 2022-23 had plunged amid manpower shortages and the coronavirus pandemic. But they were unable to raise the quota after the pandemic as the manpower shortage worsened.

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