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Higher Medisave withdrawal limits for palliative care from Jan 1

Patients who need palliative care will soon pay less out of their pockets as they will be able to draw more from their Medisave accounts to pay for such services.

SINGAPORE: Patients who need palliative care will soon pay less out of their pockets as they will be able to draw more from their Medisave accounts to pay for such services.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will raise the withdrawal limits from January 1, 2015.

Patients can withdraw up to S$200 per day for inpatient hospice services -- S$40 more than the current S$160.

The lifetime withdrawal limit will be raised to S$2,500 from the current S$1,500, and no cap is set for those with terminal illnesses such as cancer or end-stage organ failure.

The infrastructure will also be improved, with more beds to be set aside in community hospitals for patients on palliative care.

No target is given but the health ministry is working with several community hospitals. Currently, there is one community hospital that caters to patients on palliative care.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who announced these changes at the Singapore Palliative Care Conference on Saturday morning, said his ministry will also work with care providers to double the number of inpatient palliative care beds.

The target is to increase the number of beds from the current 147 to 360 by 2020.

Mr Gan said these initiatives will enhance the quality of palliative care services.

He added: "Palliative care has become even more important today in the context of our rapidly ageing population.

"We need to invest in developing palliative care services as this is a critical piece in our overall efforts to provide good and appropriate care to help patients age and die in place with dignity."

Mr Gan also noted the importance of home palliative care services, citing a Lien Foundation survey which found that about eight in 10 people polled indicated they wish to die at home, instead of a hospital or institution.

"Many patients wish to spend the last days of their lives at home, in a familiar environment, and surrounded by loved ones... MOH will resource different care providers to ramp up home palliative care services by at least 1,000 more places," said Mr Gan.

Home palliative care providers will get more financial support from the government from next month, as providers will be funded based on the number of patients they see a month instead of the number of visits by patients.

To help train palliative care professionals, the National University of Singapore and the Chapter of Palliative Medicine Physicians will start a Graduate Diploma in Palliative Medicine in July.

Dr R Akhileswaran, chairman of the Singapore Hospice Council, said: "The demand is going to grow faster, the supply part of it is whether we have enough doctors, enough nurses or enough medical social workers -- and that is really the problem.

"The second challenge, I think, is for doctors... to understand that this patient needs palliative care.

"If patients are not referred in time for palliative care, sometimes it is too rushed for the services which they are referred to, to care for them." 

There will also be a new set of guidelines on good practices in areas such as palliative care, as well as family and caregiver support.

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