SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) have, over the past week, been ironing out teething issues related to service lapses with the COVID-19 home recovery programme, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung told Parliament on Monday (Oct 4).
The issues include timeliness of notification and conveyancing, and improving communications, he said, in response to parliamentary questions on the home recovery programme (HRP).
“In the initial days of the HRP, a fair number of patients without serious symptoms did make their way to the emergency department of hospitals,” said Mr Ong, adding that this had led to “overcrowding” of emergency departments.
“We understand the anxiety of these patients. It is therefore important for us to iron out all the teething issues of HRP, so that there is a strong sense of assurance as patients undergo HRP,” he said.
“Over the past few days, such incidences have been significantly reduced.”
Singapore has seen a surge in cases over the past few weeks, with daily infections hitting record highs of more than 2,000. MOH said on Sep 23 that ground operations are “much strained”, as home recovery became the default mode of care management for fully vaccinated COVID-19 patients if they meet the criteria.
Some patients on home recovery have said that they did not receive instructions from authorities about tests or what they should have done after they testing positive.
Mr Ong acknowledged on Monday that the home recovery processes were “not totally ready” and that MOH was “caught by the sudden increase”.
“We were still implementing a pilot programme when all this happened, but the team swung into action,” he said.
DIFFICULTY CONTACTING A MINORITY
Another teething issue that MOH is working on are difficulties in contacting a small group of people eligible for the programme.
According to Mr Ong, there are currently about 9,800 people on the home recovery programme, and they are “recovering well”.
More than 2,800 people have been discharged as of Oct 3.
“Every day, over half of infected individuals will be onboarded on HRP, and we expect the proportion to continue to rise. In recent days, for those eligible for HRP, 93 per cent are contacted promptly and smoothly onboarded.
“But we still have difficulties contacting the remaining minority, because there was either no response or contact details are not accurate,” he said.
For those who are illiterate and cannot understand the SMS notifications from MOH, family members, neighbours and volunteers can help, the minister added.
He noted that volunteers were mobilised over the weekend to reach out to residents on the home recovery programme.
He added that the patients are “generally well”. As such, MOH keeps the involvement of telemedicine providers “quite light” and have patients call the providers only when they need medical attention.
On individuals whose TraceTogether app might not reflect that they have been discharged from home recovery, Mr Ong said that it “essentially an IT problem” that MOH is fixing.
“So in the next few days, the TT token issue will be resolved as we will also synchronise the removal of the alert in line with the discharge day,” he said.
HOME RECOVERY PROGRAMME OR CARE FACILITY
Mr Ong also noted that typically, MOH will contact a person detected as COVID-19 positive within 24 hours. The ministry will carry out triaging and decide whether to place the person on home recovery or in a care facility.
As of Sep 26, about 400 of those on the home recovery programme are people under quarantine who later tested positive for COVID-19.
Ninety-five per cent are eligible for the home recovery programme. For the 5 per cent who needed to recover in a care facility, this was “generally done” within 24 hours of the request for conveyance, said Mr Ong.
He added that MOH considers and accommodates individuals’ requests to be sent to isolation facilities, taking into account their medical conditions and their family circumstances.
“But it is also important to emphasise that individuals and families should, and in fact have been, making adjustments to their living arrangements to make HRP safe and possible at home.
“Because it is only with a high take-up of HRP that our hospitals can focus resources on those who may require greater medical attention, including non-COVID-19 patients who need acute hospital care,” he said.