- POSTED: 09 Jan 2014 23:51
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In light of the bed crunch situation at hospitals, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is working to ensure that patients in public hospitals are cared for safely and comfortably.
SINGAPORE: In light of the bed crunch situation at hospitals, the Ministry of Health (MOH) is working to ensure that patients in public hospitals are cared for safely and comfortably.
The ministry says an ageing population and a smaller family unit have led to increased demand for health care services.
Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor said this on the sidelines of a community event on Thursday.
From December 29 to January 7, the Bed Occupancy Rate (BOR) at public hospitals ranged between 75 per cent and 95 per cent, with Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Changi General Hospital (CGH) having the heavier loads.
Figures by MOH showed that waiting time for a bed ranged between two and nine hours.
While there are plans to ramp up bed capacity with new hospitals and nursing homes, it will take time.
Dr Khor said: “Even as we have put this plan (into place)… we are also proactively taking measures to address the bed crunch.
“For instance, we have actively been looking at the available bed capacity in other public hospitals to ease the bed crunch in some of the hospitals, like CGH, KTPH (Khoo Teck Puat Hospital) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
"We are working very hard to facilitate timely discharge of patients and therefore allow other patients with more acute needs to be admitted sooner into our hospitals."
Associate Professor Paulin Tay Straughan said her husband was affected by the current bed crunch at hospitals.
On Tuesday morning, she had dropped him off at the Emergency Department of the National University Hospital (NUH) to be treated for a chronic ailment as he was bleeding internally.
She said he waited 12 hours to get a bed.
"I was stunned and shocked because I knew that we had a bed crunch, because this was already highlighted by news reports several years ago, but I didn't realise that this was a sustained phenomenon and it had gotten so serious," said Ms Straughan.
NUH clarified that her husband visited the Emergency Department at 7.40am, before the doctors made the decision to admit him close to 11am after reviewing his condition and test results.
He was warded at about 7.45pm, after an earlier occupant was discharged in the evening and the bed cleaned.
The wait was due to the high occupancy rate and because of various factors which have to be taken into consideration when allocating beds, including the discipline of care and need for isolation, explained NUH.
NUH added that measures have been taken on an ongoing basis to free up or add beds, such as reviewing processes to enhance the right-siting of treatment and expanding facilities.
At the same time, CGH said it has put in place measures to ensure patient care is not compromised. These include a new integrated facility between the hospital and St Andrew's Community Hospital.
CGH also opened up a temporary area, called the Admission Transit Area, for patients waiting for a bed due to the tight bed crunch.
NUH added that while there is a wait for admission to the wards, there is no waiting time for patients who require emergency treatment.
Some community hospitals such as Ren Ci have also started to make use of their isolation rooms to take in more patients from the general hospitals.
Still, Ms Straughan feels that the bed crunch situation needs to be re-examined.
She said: “We certainly don't hope that tents become a permanent feature, containers become a permanent feature in a hospital establishment.
“How did we allow ourselves to come to this state? A glitch is when it happens once in a blue moon. But when it happens so frequently then it's no longer a glitch, it's the new norm.
"So the question is what happened in the planning, the masterplan for hospital beds 5 to 10 years ago?"
The Health Ministry said several hospitals, like Khoo Teck Puat, have started transitional care to help patients transit home smoothly, which then facilitates timely discharge.
Madam Lim, age 80, was diagnosed with an episode of brainstem stroke.
After spending three weeks at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, she was visited by both a doctor and a nurse for three months.
Her caregiver was also trained by the nurse on how to properly take care of her, such as how to tube feed.
"It makes a difference because there is some very basic care which we can provide to the patient. It’s not necessarily that every time there is something… we take out (our) phone and call 995. Sometimes we just have to discern what to do,” said Elain Chua, a caregiver.
Dr Ang Yan Hoon, project director of transitional care at KTPH, said: “With the service on board, the caregivers are more comfortable with discharging the patients in a timely manner, knowing that in a few days’ time, there will be a team of doctors and nurses that will visit them at home to review the patients’ condition and give advice.
“In that way, if patients are discharged in a more timely manner, the hospital beds that are freed up can be given to someone who is more in need.”
The transitional care service at KTPH has served some 750 patients since it started in 2012. Currently it is serving about 75 active patients.
Usually the hospital makes about three referrals of this service a day. But over the Christmas and New Year period, the hospital said this has been bumped up to 10 referrals a day as doctors are discharging more stable patients to free up bed space."