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Assoc Prof Jamus Lim reiterates concerns on Singapore’s healthcare system from an engineering perspective

SINGAPORE — Associate Professor Jamus Lim, Workers’ Party Member of Parliament for Seng Kang GRC, reiterated his concerns about Singapore’s healthcare system on Monday morning through a comprehensive Facebook post.

The issues Assoc Prof Lim discussed were initially raised during the parliamentary motion on healthcare last month, tabled by Nominated Members of Parliament, Dr Tan Yia Swam, Mr Abdul Samad and Dr Shahira Abdullah.

The motion, titled “That this House commits to supporting healthcare beyond the COVID-19 pandemic and the whole-of-Government efforts for consistent and sustainable support,” saw Members of Parliament speaking on Singapore’s healthcare system on its achievements and also on areas where it seems lacking.

During an exchange between Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and Non-Constituency Member of Parliament Leong Mun Wai on 10 May, Mr Ong said that Singapore needs to make sure healthcare spending as a proportion of Gross Domestic Product does not increase too much.

“In the coming years, our challenge is not to spend more, but to ensure we do not go the way of many OECD countries, with the healthcare fiscal burden spiralling and escalating out of control,” he said.

It is also “widely known” that spending more on healthcare does not necessarily lead to better health outcomes, he added.

Taking a more engineering than an economist perspective, Assoc Prof Lim emphasized the importance of maintaining a certain level of redundancy in the healthcare system to handle potential crises.

This viewpoint, he clarified, relies on a holistic, long-term consideration of costs and benefits, rather than a fleeting snapshot.

Assoc Prof Lim identified hospital bed capacity as a crucial metric, revealing that Singapore lags behind other high-income nations. With only 5.7 ICU beds per 100,000 population, Singapore stands at half the OECD average. The regular bed count also falls short compared to Western and East Asian countries like Japan, South Korea, and China.

The high bed utilization rate in Singapore, exceeding 80 percent and reaching up to 90 percent in some hospitals even during non-crisis periods, was highlighted as a sign of an overstretched healthcare system. Assoc Prof Lim also drew attention to increasing hospital admission wait times, with some patients reportedly waiting for over 24 hours.

It was reported by the Ministry of Health (MOH) that Singapore’s hospital emergency departments have experienced a surge in patient volume over the two weeks, leading to a rise in the median waiting time for ward admission from about five hours to 7.2 hours, the Ministry of Health (MOH) reported on Tuesday (25 Apr).

During the week of April 9-15, MOH data showed that median waiting times exceeded 24 hours at three hospitals at one stage.

However, by the end of the week, they had dropped to a range of two hours to 12 hours. The daily bed occupancy rates ranged between 80% and 100% during this period.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) experienced the longest median waiting time during that week, peaking at nearly 30 hours on 10 April.

The hospital, which also recorded a 100% daily bed occupancy rate for six of the seven days, attributed the longer waiting times to “unique and extraneous factors.”

In terms of healthcare professionals, Assoc Prof Lim expressed concern over the relatively fewer doctors and nurses per capita in Singapore compared to other advanced nations. High rates of burnout and turnover were raised as significant issues, with a call for improved working conditions and incentives.

To bolster the number of healthcare professionals, Assoc Prof Lim proposed relaxing entry barriers for doctors, expanding the recognition of international universities, and facilitating the accreditation process for experienced overseas practitioners. He also advocated for improved support for hospitals in international recruitment efforts.

For nursing, Assoc Prof Lim suggested fee waivers for those committing to a certain tenure in the profession, increased SkillsFuture coverage, and enhanced career progression opportunities to elevate the profession’s prestige.

Assoc Prof Lim acknowledged Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and the government’s understanding of these issues.

While Singapore’s healthcare system is globally acclaimed, he highlighted that signs of strain are evident, urging an immediate response to these capacity issues, emphasizing the need to improve not just cost optimization but also service quality.

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