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Six months wait time for subsidised patients is more common that some ministers realise

A TODAY reader wrote in to the website to shared her experience with terribly long wait times at a public hospital as a subsidised patient.

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Lam Pin Min told parliament last week that the average waiting time for new subsidised specialist appointments has improved in the past five years, from 28 days in 2013 to 22 days in the first half of 2018.

However, the author’s experience doesn’t tally with that number. The author described how she has a referral from a clinic under the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) and had called Changi General Hospital (CGH) to make an appointment for her chronic neck pain as a new subsidised patient.

However, she was surprised to hear that the earliest available appointment was for 23 May next year, exactly six month away. That’s a 180-day wait to see a specialised. About 160 days longer than Dr Lam’s estimate.

When the author asked the hospital staff on the phone to double check that wait time, she was informed that the clinic for spinal and neck problems is overwhelmed, which is why the wait time is so long. The staff also confirmed that six months is the usual waiting time for subsidised patients. It was then suggested to her that the author try a different public hospital, but there was no guarantee that the wait time would be shorter. And anyway, the author wanted an appointment with CGH as it was the nearest public hospital to her.

The author noted that the surprisingly long wait times is unacceptable and seems to imply that non-subsidised patients are prioritised. Of course, it could just be that the queues are longer for subsidised patients compared to non-subsidised patients. But still, 6 months to see a specialist? Surely Singapore can do better.

The author went on to question Dr Lam’s claim that “meeting Singaporean’s healthcare needs remains our priority” in public health institutions. She said, “I believe that priority should be given to subsidised patients who are from the pioneer generation and the “Merdeka generation”, the group of Singaporeans born in the 1950s. This problem of long waiting time in getting clinical appointments has been going on for a while.”

Referring to the Ministry of Health’s Committee of Supply debate after the Budget statement in 2016, Workers’ Party’s Member of Parliament Low Thia Khiang revisited this matter that he raised in 2013. He said that the long waiting times seem to affect subsidised patients more than non-subsidised patients, and asked if this was how the specialist outpatient clinics at public hospitals regulate subsidised patients’ demand for their services or if it was due to insufficient resources being made available to meet the demands.

A clear answer is still pending.

While some people have come out to share their positive experiences as subsidised patients:

Many others have shared their own similar experiences of extremely long wait-times for subsidised patients and personal experience assisting one

And the long wait times raises the question of quality of care as well, specifically if prognosis would be better for subsidised patients if they were cared for sooner: