Health Ministry to improve access to care for mental health patients

Health Ministry to improve access to care for mental health patients

One area which the Health Ministry will be focusing on over the next few years is in the area of developing a new community-based mental health plan to complement the hospital-based services.

SINGAPORE: One area which the Health Ministry will be focusing on over the next few years is in the area of developing a new community-based mental health plan to complement the hospital-based services.

Speaking in Parliament, Minister of State for Health, Dr Amy Khor said the government's role is to build a network of care and support services that are integrated with primary care and long-term care services.

So to improve access to care for mental health patients, the ministry will site specialist-led multi-disciplinary teams in the community, starting with the north and central regions this year.

They are called the Assessment and Shared Care Teams (ASCAT) and they will be integrated with the primary care services, so that a person with a mental condition can visit a clinic near him to receive the care he needs, instead of having to see the psychiatrist in the hospital.

For a start, MOH will set up six ASCAT teams by 2016 to manage up to 9,500 patients at any point in time.

It will also put in place more specialised teams to focus specifically on dementia patients.

Dr Amy Khor explained that the government will also expand counselling and psychotherapy services in the community to enable GPs to play a larger role in treating patients with mild to moderate mental conditions such as anxiety and depression.

Dr Khor said: "Caring for someone with a mental condition calls for tremendous family and social support.

"To this end, community nodes such as Seniors Activity Centres and grassroots organisations play an important role in helping residents with mental health conditions.

"We will be piloting a helpline to provide information to such community organisations, to enable them to assist patients and caregivers to better navigate the range of services available.

Dr Khor added that mobile teams of mental health professionals will also provide early on-site response for potential crisis situations where intervention or closer assessment is needed.

In tandem, the ministry will also work with the Alzheimer's Disease Association to expand the reach to help more families care for their loved ones with dementia.

Dr Khor said: "In parallel, we will continue with our mental health education and promotion efforts. HPB reached out to some 170,000 people last year, and will continue with its efforts this year.

"HPB has a workplace mental health promotion grant to build resilience and wellbeing of employees and facilitate early detection and support.

"From April this year, the maximum quantum of the grant will be raised from S$2,000 to S$5,000 to sustain and augment companies' mental health promotion programmes. The grant is targeted to benefit 100,000 employees over the next three years, at a cost of S$2.5 million."

Concurrent to the efforts to build up community-based mental health services, the ministry will also grow some of the other hospital and institution-based services for those with more severe mental disorders.

Dr Khor said the ministry will expand the capacity of the specialised outpatient memory clinics in hospitals by about 60 per cent over the next five years, to serve more dementia patients.

Over the next five years, MOH will also build two new psychiatric nursing homes, one additional psychiatric rehabilitation home, and two more psychiatric sheltered homes at a cost of about S$70 million.

This will increase the existing capacity of the psychiatric Immediate Long-Term Care facilities from 1,000 beds to 1,700 beds.

Source: CNA/ck

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