Residents can't get online appointments at polyclinics, say MPs; MOH to look into queueing system suggestions
One MP suggested that general practitioner clinics be integrated into the online appointment booking system, and another asked if patients could queue for an appointment for the next day instead.
SINGAPORE: The Ministry of Health (MOH) will look into suggestions about the queueing and online appointment systems at polyclinics, said Senior Minister of State for Health Janil Puthucheary on Monday (May 8), after several Members of Parliaments raised concerns about residents being unable to get appointments.
During a Parliamentary question on whether polyclinics can scale up their capacity to accommodate more walk-in patients with urgent medical conditions, Mr Liang Eng Hwa (PAP-Bukit Panjang), Mr Ang Wei Neng (PAP-West Coast) and Dr Tan Wu Meng (PAP-Jurong) said their residents could not secure online appointments, much less walk-in slots.
Dr Tan suggested that general practitioner clinics under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) scheme could be integrated into the online booking process.
“Some may be quite elderly, less able to go online, less able to quickly click to secure the appointment when the bookings open. I have residents who tell me that for some of the polyclinics, the online slots are used up within half an hour of the online booking starting on some days,” he added.
He also asked if MOH was tracking whether fewer seniors are able to book their slots online.
Dr Puthucheary affirmed that a “high proportion” of the polyclinics’ workload comes from seniors.
Dr Tan’s suggestion to integrate CHAS general practitioner clinics into an online booking system was also worth studying, and MOH will look into how it can improve access to primary care services, he added.
Mr Ang shared that some of his residents were not able to secure appointments, even after going down in person to queue for one.
“Can they queue, if they can’t get an appointment, can they get a next-day appointment?” he asked.
He also pointed out that most of the polyclinics that are currently under construction are in other parts of Singapore, but not in the Jurong area.
“So how are we going to alleviate the situation at Pioneer Polyclinic?” said Mr Ang.
MOH will look into Mr Ang’s suggestion about the queueing system for appointments, said Dr Puthucheary.
“We are trying very hard to improve the service provision for primary care by both expanding our network of polyclinics as well as leveraging on the experience and capability of the general practitioner clinics and family physicians that are in the community and that can serve this resident population very well,” he continued.
Noting that his residents were often unable to get medical attention when walking into the clinic, or get a slot online for the next day, Mr Liang asked if MOH is looking at improving the situation.
“There is also this CHAS GP clinics scheme, which is meant to take some load off the polyclinics, but it seems that it’s not helping much,” he continued.
“Maybe is there a need to … change the scheme or policy so that it becomes attractive to patients to use the CHAS GP clinics, and not all going to the polyclinics.”
In response, Dr Puthucheary noted that MOH is moving towards polyclinics working in partnership with general practitioner clinics and family practitioners in the area that they serve.
“And we do want for residents to understand that these are part of the continuum of primary care services,” he added.
If a patient turns up to a polyclinic without an appointment, and if they are assessed to have an urgent need for medical attention, they will be attended to, said Dr Puthucheary.
“If it’s something elective then, and there are no appointment slots left, the recommendation will be that they seek care electively in a planned way, make an appointment with a general practitioner within the vicinity.”
Relaying a question on behalf of Ms Joan Pereira (PAP-Tanjong Pagar), Mr Saktiandi Supaat (PAP-Bishan-Toa Payoh) asked if polyclinics could consider prioritising walk-in patients who are seniors, given that they may find it challenging to go to general practitioners.
The patients’ age and mobility are considered in their assessment at the polyclinics, said Dr Puthucheary.
“I think the right thing to do is to allow the professional judgement of the clinical team at the site to make the assessment as to the urgency of their needs, rather than set a very arbitrary cut-off in terms of age for example … where actually the key thing is to assess the needs of that patient at that time.”