SINGAPORE — Dr Paul Ananth Tambyah, Chairman of the Singapore Democratic Party, recently highlighted the growing issue of long waiting times at Singapore’s Polyclinics, as he called for a comprehensive review of the nation’s healthcare system.
The call to action was made last Saturday (17 June) on his Instagram account, where he pointed out the difficulties particularly faced by seniors accessing the online booking system for appointments.
Dr Tambyah cited the current online system as a case of “digitalization for the sake of digitalization,” as many elderly individuals find the digital processes challenging to navigate.”
“While statistics from a parliamentary reply show that the median waiting time at Polyclinics has been reduced to about 17 minutes, it was reported that about 5% of individuals, equating to nearly 1,000 patients daily, wait for more than 160 minutes.”
“This lengthy waiting time often results in individuals returning home without receiving the necessary medical attention, which may lead to further health complications and additional pressure on the already strained healthcare system.”
A correspondent from The Online Citizen (TOC), who is over 55 years old, shared his unsuccessful attempt at securing an appointment at a Polyclinic last month.
He had tried booking a slot the previous night, only to find all slots taken. And was turned away at the entrance by security officers as the appointment slots for the day were taken up.
A sign, “All slots have been taken up today”, was put up at the entrance to tell visitors to turn back the would-be patients.
During a parliamentary session in March, Mr Saktiandi Supaat raised a series of queries regarding the waiting time, turn-away rates, and age proportion of affected individuals at Polyclinics.
The Senior Minister of State for Health, Dr Janil Puthucheary, responded that the overall median and 95th percentile doctor consultation waiting time for walk-in patients was 17 minutes and 164 minutes, respectively.
He added that the Ministry does not currently track the number of patients turned away or the proportion above 55 years of age.
Addressing the concerns, Dr Puthucheary affirmed that the Ministry of Health (MOH) would review suggestions regarding queueing and the online appointment systems. He also acknowledged the issue raised about seniors’ difficulty securing online appointments and expressed willingness to explore the integration of CHAS general practitioner clinics into the online booking process.
Despite the efforts to expand the network of Polyclinics, many residents, particularly those from the Jurong area, are still finding it hard to secure appointments or walk-in slots.
Suggestions to prioritise walk-in patients who are seniors were raised by Members of Parliament in May, considering the challenges they face in accessing general practitioners.
Dr Puthucheary affirmed that patients’ age and mobility are considered in their assessment, but the urgency of their needs is the primary factor in determining care.
Under the Singapore Democratic Party’s National Healthcare Plan, it is proposed that general practitioners (GPs) in Singapore, numbering around 1,800, play a role in managing the patient load at Polyclinics.
The plan suggests granting GPs access to drugs at government tender prices and providing them with the same subsidies as Polyclinics, thus balancing the healthcare service distribution.
With many GP clinics reportedly being under-utilized during the day, the proposed plan may help alleviate the pressure on Polyclinics and provide a more effective approach to managing the nation’s healthcare needs.