The Online Citizen

Third world problems in first world S’pore: Low Thia Khiang

March 14
09:22 2014

ltk

On Wednesday, the Member of Parliament for Aljunied GRC and secretary-general of the Workers’ Party, Low Thia Khiang, raised the issue of Singapore’s hospital bed crunch which had been in the news recently.

“A WP member told me that her 97 year-old grandmother waited for 23 hours for a bed,” Mr Low told the House. “A former NMP also witnessed the bed crunch when her husband had to wait over eight hours before being given a hospital bed. She observed that ‘when it happens so frequently, then it’s no longer a glitch, it’s the new norm’.”

Mr Low asked what has happened to the government’s master plans for hospital beds 5 to 10 years ago.

He suggested that to alleviate the shortage of bed space,  and instead of using tents and corridors – which some hospitals have resorted to – ward space currently used for the provision of non-subsidized beds can be converted to subsidized beds so as to quickly increase the bed availability within the current physical confines of the government-restructured hospitals.

“This hospital bed crunch, together with the public transport ‘crush’ and the riot in Little India,” Mr Low said, “is a stark example of third world problems in first world Singapore. One certainly hopes that Singapore does not make history by going from third world to first and back to third within one generation.”

Here is Mr Low’s speech in full:

Mdm Chair,

“Hospitals facing severe bed crunch take unusual steps” made the front page of the Straits Times at the beginning of this year.

This hospital bed crunch, together with the public transport “crush” and the riot in Little India, is a stark example of third world problems in first world Singapore. One certainly hopes that Singapore does not make history by going from third world to first and back to third within one generation.

The hospital bed crunch is not a new problem and we have been reminded of this problem in multiple occasions over the past few years. Although this problem tends to wax and wane and some attribute it to “seasonal variations” dependent on infectious disease epidemics and the spike of “social stayers” during festive seasons, I think it has now reached a level of sufficient importance to warrant MOH to take a hard look.

At present, subsidized beds within the government restructured hospitals comprise 81% of the total bed count, while non-subsidized beds comprise 19%. Instead of using tents and corridors, ward space currently used for the provision of non-subsidized beds can be converted to subsidized beds so as to quickly increase the bed availability within the current physical confines of the government-restructured hospitals.

Minister for Health has noted that the conversion from non-subsidized beds to subsidized beds will entail changes in “infrastructure design”. But these changes in “infrastructure design” will take less time to achieve compared to the construction of a new hospital; and the manpower needs that arise will be less than the manpower needed to run a new hospital.

A WP member told me that her 97 year-old grandmother waited for 23 hours for a bed. A former NMP also witnessed the bed crunch when her husband had to wait over eight hours before being given a hospital bed. She observed that “when it happens so frequently, then it’s no longer a glitch, it’s the new norm.

The question is what has happened to the master plans for hospital beds 5 to 10 years ago? Furthermore, if we are currently playing catch-up, then the question is “are Singapore public hospitals on track to meet future healthcare needs” given that our population is still expanding and still ageing?

Many of our government-restructured hospitals are Joint Commission International (JCI) accredited. This internationally recognized accreditation is awarded to hospitals that meet certain standards for patient safety. The standards for patient safety are stringent and include a minimum distance between patient beds and adequate sinks/ toilet facilities so as to reduce the rate of hospital acquired infections. Are housing patients along corridors and in tents acceptable to the JCI committee?

 

TOC TV

Archives