More clarification needed for death in SAF Detention Barracks

By Ravi Philemon

The newspapers today reported that a detainee, 54 year-old Sivaperumal Tanggayelu, detained in the Singapore Armed Forces’ Detention Barracks, collapsed and died in the detention centre while taking a shower. The reports (see this, this and this) raises several questions about the protocols and procedures in place to assist servicemen who are injured, sick or distressed.The following is the chronology of events leading to the servicemen being pronounced dead on 21st October 2013 (Monday), as reported in the papers:

Time Event
6.49 pm Collapsed while taking shower
?.?? pm Medic started resuscitation efforts on servicemen who was unconscious and without a pulse
7.09 pm Evacuated via SAF ambulance to the Tengah Air Base Medical Centre
?.?? pm Attended by SAF doctor who assessed that serviceman has suffered cardiac arrest
7.44 pm SAF doctor initiated advanced life support intervention and servicemen was moved to NUH
?.?? pm Reached NUH (resuscitation efforts continue en-route to hospital)
?.?? pm Attended by doctors at NUH
8.15pm Doctors at NUH resuscitated serviceman and he regained consciousness, but remained in critical condition
8.50 pm Died at NUH

It takes about 15 minutes to reach Tengah Air Base from Kranji Camp 1 (SAF Detention Barracks):

What medical assistance was provided to the serviceman en-route to the medical centre in Tengah Air Base?

It takes about 21 minutes to reach National University Hospital from Tengah Air Base:

That means that the unconscious serviceman reached the hospital at about 8.05 pm.

There was a time-lapse of 1 hour and 25 minutes, from the time of his collapse to the time the serviceman collapsed to the time the doctors at NUH were able to resuscitate him. Of these lapsed time, more than 35 minutes was spent just on commuting from Point A to Point B, and finally to Point C. And about 20 minutes in a futile attempt to resuscitate him at an SAF medical centre.

Would the life of the serviceman have been saved if he had been brought to the hospital earlier, soon after he had collapsed? According to Google Maps it takes only about 23 minutes to get from SAF Detention Barracks to NUH.

Since there are reportedly at least 150 detainees at any one time in the detention barracks, and since some detainees reportedly engage in strenuous physical exertion, marching daily with an 18kg load on their backs as a form of deterrence, why are there no doctors in SAF’s detention facility? Even if the soldiers are under sentence, they are still the sons of Singapore, and there should be no reason why they should be spared proper medical attention.

Besides SAF’s detention barracks in Kranji, what other SAF camps do not have proper medical facilities for servicemen? Where there are no proper medical facilities available, what are the protocols and procedures in place to provide adequate medical assistance to servicemen? Does the current SOP specify that servicemen needing urgent medical attention be brought to SAF’s medical centres first, even if they would be better served in a proper hospital?

Since we have a conscription army here in Singapore, and since parents send their sons to do National Service hoping that the SAF would take good, adequate and appropriate care of their sons while their sons serve the nation, these are some very pertinent questions the Armed Forces have got to adequately answer to provide ease of heart not only to the servicemen, but also to their parents.

This article was first published on Ravi Philemon’s blog.

“article edited on 24 October 2013 to better reflect that the serviceman died at 8.50pm on Monday, 21 October 2013.”

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