By Andrew Loh
In response to a Straits Times report on the “severe” bed crunch faced by hospitals here, the Health Ministry yesterday said it has “ has instructed all public hospitals to make patients feel comfortable and ensure their safety while they are being treated.” (TODAY)
In its report on Wednesday (8 Jan 2014), the Straits Times said that Changi General Hospital (CGH) has resorted to housing some of its patients in makeshift tents, and that Tan Tock Seng Hospital is putting its patients in corridors. Patients are also sent to other hospitals, including private ones.
Gan Kim Yong, the Minister for the Health Ministry, said on Thursday, “Right now, we are actively working to tackle the current crunch in a few public hospitals, such as tapping on available bed capacity in other public hospitals, as well as facilitating the timely discharge of patients to available beds in the community hospitals, or with the help of homecare providers.”
He also said that the shortage of hospital beds could be due to several factors, including increased demands because of Singapore’s ageing population.
In the Straits Times report, it was suggested that the shortfall might be due to the “holiday season”, according to Dr Chia Shi Lu, Member of Parliament for Tanjong Pagar GRC and a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health.
His view was supported by Mr Liak Teng Lit, head of Alexandra Health, which runs the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. He said that some patients decline to be discharged because “some say their families are on holiday, and there is no one at home to take care of them.”
The two men’s views, however, have been criticised by the public. Dr Chia’s claims that the bed shortage might be due to the “holiday season” were met with derision. While some agree that there might indeed be those who would leave their loved ones in the hospital and go on holiday, they question if this was so rampant that it has caused what the Straits Times described as a “severe” bed crunch.
It is also unclear if such a phenomenon has occurred in previous years, although the shortage has been reported in each of the last 3 to 5 years.
The MOH, in its statement on Thursday, did not say that the shortage was due to the holiday season.
Still, Singaporeans have expressed concerns that the country’s healthcare system may be under serious strains not only because of the ageing population, but also from other factors, such as the presence of a larger foreigner population, and the increased demands from medical tourism.
Last year, it was reported that 30 per cent of foreign patients sought treatment in public hospitals. According to the Singapore Tourism Board, “tourists spent close to $1 billion on medical treatments here in 2011 – an increase over the two previous years”.
Mr Edwin Lim, writing to the Straits Times in February last year, echoed many Singaporeans’ feelings about this.
“[Public] hospitals should remain ‘public’ and not be profit-oriented,” he said.
“They should focus on giving priority to Singaporeans seeking medical treatment, and not seek profits to the extent that efficient public health services for Singaporeans are compromised.”
In the meantime, perhaps some relief is on its way – the new 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital is slated to open later this year.