Govt's $7b boost for health care

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05 Mar 2011
The Straits Times (Singapore)
Govt's $7b boost for health care
Health care is getting a $7billion booster shot.

A new polyclinic will be built in Punggol and five of the older ones will be upgraded.

The subsidy cap for implants – such as pacemakers for the heart and artificial knees – will double from $500 to $1,000, covering 90per cent of implants for subsidised patients.

A new institute to teach and do research in geriatric care will be set up – a timely move, given Singapore's ageing population.

These are some of the improvements to health care that Singaporeans can look forward to with the nearly $7billion the Government is injecting into the sector this year.

Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan yesterday painted his masterplan in Parliament for the next five to 10 years – to transform health care here "to be among the best in the world".

But Singapore must continue to face some "hard truths", such as the fact that there is no free health care as someone has to pay the bills.

He said some countries ignore this, thinking there is "a pill for every ill".

"For the terminally-ill, they still strive to prolong life at all cost, never mind the quality of life nor the futility of such endeavour. The United States spent 18per cent of its gross domestic product on health care and they know that much of that is unnecessary," he said.

Singapore spends 4per cent of GDP on health and has "a good and relatively inexpensive health-care system because we have sensible and wise doctors", Mr Khaw added.

For the next five to 10 years, he said, the top priority is to build up long-term care with more and better quality community hospitals, nursing homes and home health care. The objective is to enable elderly people with chronic ailments to have a good quality of life and avoid having to be hospitalised.

For those who do need hospital care, two new general hospitals will open in Jurong and Sengkang, each with a community hospital next door.

The 700-bed one in Jurong will open in 2014, while the Sengkang hospital is targeted for 2020.

To get more people to spot illnesses early, Mr Khaw will loosen Medisave rules to allow for its use for two costly screenings recently recommended by the Academy of Medicine, an association of specialists.

You can claim up to $950 to pay for a colonoscopy to test for colon cancer, the top cancer here, and up to $300 a year for a mammogram to check for breast cancer, the top cancer for women. Both cancers, if treated early, can be stopped, with patients living out their natural lives.

The call to allow Medisave for such use has been raised previously by MPs Dr Lily Neo (Jalan Besar GRC) and Madam Halimah Yacob (Jurong GRC) and yesterday by Dr Lam Pin Min (Ang Mo Kio GRC). Mr Khaw said he will allow Medisave use for people 50 years and older.

Madam Cynthia Phua (Aljunied GRC) suggested the ministry review the role of polyclinics. She said: "We know we need more polyclinics simply by virtue of the increasing population and our increasing elderly population."

One more will be built in Punggol, said Mr Khaw, and five of the older polyclinics will be upgraded over the next five years at a cost of $50 million. So far, eight of the 18 polyclinics have been transformed into paperless, fully-computerised clinics with filmless teleradiology.

Opposition MP Low Thia Khiang (Hougang) asked why Singapore is behind other developed countries when it comes to end-of-life care. He suggested that instead of giving $1.5billion in growth dividends to everyone, including the rich, some of this money could go to improving such care.

Mr Khaw explained that many European countries have older populations and have thus begun working on this much earlier.

Singapore is already better off today than it was five years ago and he promised that, five to 10 years from now, it will be much better.

The new initiatives drew the thumbs up from Dr Ng Wai Chong, assistant director of the Hua Mei Mobile Clinic.

"It's wonderful, definitely very encouraging," he said, adding that home care has to go beyond just what to do when a patient is discharged to longer-term care.
Salma Khalik
Last Modified Date :15 May 2012