SINGAPORE: Even as Singapore fights COVID-19, it must continue to work on long-term goals of strengthening its healthcare system, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Tuesday (Aug 25).
“We must continue to ensure that quality healthcare remains accessible and affordable, and that our healthcare system can better and more sustainably serve the evolving health needs of Singaporeans,” said Mr Gan as he outlined how his ministry will support key themes laid out by President Halimah Yacob during Monday’s opening of Parliament.
“To achieve this, we will press on with three major shifts in our healthcare system, to move Beyond Healthcare to Health, Beyond Hospital to Community and Beyond Quality to Value.”
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KEEPING SINGAPOREANS HEALTHY
To keep residents healthy, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will continue with efforts to improve diets and lifestyles, and make preventive healthcare more affordable and accessible by enhancing subsidies for vaccinations in various settings.
MOH will “proactively” manage seniors’ health through a review of the Action Plan for Successful Ageing, as well as work with the public, corporate and community partners to “transform our seniors’ lived experience”, said Mr Gan.
Mental wellness will also be on the agenda, with programmes like the Integrated Youth Service for young people who are at risk of mental health conditions.
Screening for diabetics and those with pre-diabetes will continue, where the ministry will “optimise” its care for diabetics and prevent long-term complications, said Mr Gan.
He added that MOH will identify “best practices” to better manage other chronic diseases.
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PROVIDING BETTER AND MORE ACCESSIBLE HEALTHCARE
In his addendum to the President’s address, Mr Gan also said that his ministry will continue to expand the healthcare capacity by building a hospital in the east and new polyclinics across Singapore by 2030, even though COVID-19 has delayed the completion of some facilities.
MOH will also expand the scope of service at eldercare centres to include active ageing programmes, befriending services, as well as information and referral for care services.
When the Healthcare Services Act is implemented, it will better regulate the healthcare sector, and the health ministry will “work with industry on the safe introduction of new care delivery models”, Mr Gan said.
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AFFORDABLE AND SUSTAINABLE HEALTHCARE
Three new initiatives from this year will keep healthcare “affordable and sustainable” for an ageing population and prepare Singaporeans for their long-term care needs, said Mr Gan.
They are: ElderFund, launched in January 2020, and CareShield Life and MediSave Care, to be launched by the end of the year.
MOH is also working with the MediShield Life Council to review MediShield Life benefits and premiums, to “ensure that the scheme continues to provide adequate protection against large medical bills and remains sustainable”, said Mr Gan.
“Our subsidy frameworks will also be reviewed to ensure that they remain adequate and directed at those who need it most,” he added.
The COVID-19 pandemic has presented an unprecedented challenge for Singapore’s healthcare system, noted Mr Gan, adding that MOH will continue its four-pronged strategy to fight the coronavirus – safe management practices, early detection, contain close contacts of new cases and provide effective care for patients.
“COVID-19 will be with us for a long time, and until a vaccine becomes available, there is always a risk of further waves of the disease,” said Mr Gan, adding that the ministry will “ensure sufficient healthcare resources” for COVID-19 patients.
“We will also continue to maintain adequate quarantine and community isolation capacity, to remain prepared for any sudden surge in cases. We will continue to leverage data and technology to improve our capability to respond quickly to evolving situations and contain outbreaks.”
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In the field of medical research, Singapore remains “actively involved” in vaccine and therapeutics development, including in clinical trials with global partners, said Mr Gan, adding that MOH will continue to work with international partners in the fight against COVID-19.
“In the meantime, for as long as COVID-19 is still with us, we must remain vigilant as a nation and continue to encourage the public to practice social responsibility and good personal hygiene habits,” said the Health Minister, while paying tribute to healthcare workers and volunteers who have “led the charge” against COVID-19.
“Their adaptability, resilience, and determination have led to innovations in caring for patients both within the existing healthcare institutions and in in new settings such as the various isolation and recovery facilities,” he said.
JOBS IN THE HEALTHCARE SECTOR
COVID-19 has strengthened MOH’s aim to transform healthcare, said Mr Gan, adding that the ministry will “push forward” with digital transformation and research efforts.
“We are accelerating several digitalisation projects to support telehealth initiatives, help our healthcare workforce work remotely, and improve pandemic preparedness.
“In research, we will build and support a greater pool of talent, improve data infrastructure and strengthen research and development in a wide range of translatable areas,” he said.
There will be more job opportunities and traineeship positions for Singaporeans over the next few years in the public healthcare and community care sector. From now until end-2021, the healthcare sector will offer about 7,500 jobs and about 1,600 traineeships, attachments and skills training opportunities.
These will be suitable for fresh graduates and mid-career job seekers regardless of their background, said Mr Gan.
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“Our healthcare transformation journey is a multi-year endeavour. We must keep innovating and improving to make Singaporeans healthier and our healthcare system better for all, in partnership with public, community-based and private healthcare providers,” said Mr Gan.
“We will continue to reach out to all Singaporeans, to help us continue our journey to build a strong and sustainable health system for the future together, so that all Singaporeans can live well, longer, and with peace of mind.”