Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (Image by ZDL / Shutterstock.com)

Is denying air-conditioning to subsidised wards a form of classicism?

A member of the public raised her concern over the lack of air-conditioning in subsidised wards in a letter published by the Straits Times on 3 June.

The letter written by Lily Ong noted that patients in Class C wards are left to the mercy of the sweltering heat that is blanketing Singapore as those wards are not air-conditioned.

Noting that many of the patients in Class C wards are elderly, the author suggested that such wards be equipped with air-conditioning unit, arguing that it is a basic necessity in a country as hot and humid as Singapore and in the wake of global warming.

Ms Ong also raised concerns of health complications that would result from patients lying next to open windows in the hospital considering that the Singapore Institute of International Affairs has projected the return of severe haze in Singapore this year.

MOH reply: Going green and keep costs low

In a reply which was published by ST (8 June), the Ministry of Health Director of Infrastructure Planning & Policy Division Low Chian Siong said that ‘patients who prefer air-conditioned accommodation may opt for A or B1 ward types’.

Mr Low elaborated that public hospitals in Singapore provide “safe, affordable and effective care to patients” and in order “to keep subsidised wards affordable for patients, they are designed to cater to essential patient needs.”

Mr Low also highlighted that improvements have been made to the design and infrastructure in subsidised wards of newer public hospitals, noting that these hospitals meet the Building Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum certification which “requires naturally ventilated spaces, including subsidised wards, to meet thermal comfort requirement such as air temperature, air movement and humidity.”

As for older hospitals, mitigating measures have been taken such as spot cooling to bring down ambient temperature, he says.

Addressing concerns on the impending haze, Mr Low said that all public hospitals will take additional measures when necessary.

Is denying air-conditioning to subsidised wards a form of classicism?

The thing is, hospitals in Singapore boast beautiful design elements from articulated facades (Sengkang General Hospital) to lush rooftop gardens filled with verdant greenery (Singapore General Hospital). Clearly, no expense was spared in creating a beautiful, well-equipped healthcare infrastructure.

But imagine just for a moment how much it would cost to maintain those gardens? How much would it have cost to create a beautiful outer façade and include balconies in rooms? And yet, there seems ot be a need to skimp on additional cost of installing and running air-conditioning for Class C wards?

Chance are the cost for landscaping and maintenance for Jurong Hospital, for example, would be more than the cost required to air-condition Class C wards. We’re talking about hospitals here. Comfort should be prioritised over aesthetics.

The reply from MOH on the lack of air-conditioning clearly noted that the reason subsidised wards don’t get air-conditioning was due to budget concerns and wanting to keep costs low. If that’s the case, they should be consistent.

On top of that, given that Singapore is already capable of generating much more electricity that it needs, thus lowering costs, it really wouldn’t burden hospitals much at all to provide air-conditioning to all wards.

Even so, let’s say MOH is motivated by the goal of being environmentally friendly and wanting to meet the mark for the Building Construction Authority’s Green Mark Platinum certification. If that’s the case, then shouldn’t they scrap air-conditioning from all wards completely and not just Class C?