New Communicable Diseases Agency to be set up to oversee disease prevention and control, outbreak response
Many countries, such as South Korea, UK and US, have similar setups, and are also reviewing their organisational setup after COVID-19, said Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung.
SINGAPORE: Singapore will set up a new Communicable Diseases Agency (CDA) to oversee disease preparedness, prevention and control, surveillance, risk assessment and outbreak response, announced Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung on Tuesday (Mar 21).
Speaking in Parliament during the COVID-19 White Paper debate, Mr Ong shared details on the changes that will be made to Singapore’s healthcare system post-pandemic.
The new agency, which will fall under the Ministry of Health (MOH), will consolidate public health functions under the ministry, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and the Health Promotion Board, said the minister.
The National Public Health Laboratory will be transferred to the CDA, and the agency will also maintain oversight of the clinical facilities in NCID, he added.
“Many countries, such as South Korea, UK and US, they have similar setups. They too, after the COVID-19 crisis, are also reviewing their organisation setup,” he added.
The Crisis Strategy and Operations Group (CSOG) within MOH, which was established during the pandemic, will be retained, said Mr Ong.
The CSOG oversaw pandemic-related operations such as contact tracing, home quarantine, transporting patients to isolation facilities, COVID-19 testing, vaccinations and home recovery, he added.
It was staffed by officers from various ministries, contract staff and other staff from industries affected by COVID-19.
“Today, most of these staff have returned to their industries ... We are sad to see them go, but we are happy they are gone too because they're going back to their industries. The operations have scaled down greatly,” said the Health Minister.
“Nevertheless, we will keep a permanent CSOG force to maintain surge readiness for a mid-sized outbreak as well as other health emergencies. This includes preparing healthcare institutions to be crisis-ready.”
Outside of outbreaks and healthcare emergencies, the Group will help to operationalise Healthier SG, since the skillsets are “fairly similar”, said Mr Ong.
A Healthcare Reserve Force made up of former healthcare workers and volunteers will also be set up, he added.
“We will train and equip them to reinforce our operations during larger surges, and they will complement the existing pool of SG Healthcare Corps volunteers,” said the minister.
The title of MOH’s Director of Medical Services, or the officer overseeing the provision of all health services in Singapore, will be changed to Director General of Health, announced Mr Ong.
Professor Kenneth Mak is MOH’s current Director of Medical Services. His title will be amended after the changes to the Healthcare Services Act come into effect later in 2023, said the Health Minister.
“With these changes, MOH will be organised to place emphasis on both clinical services and public health. They require different instincts, considerations, capabilities and skillsets. Both are important and critical, and will be institutionalised and built up within MOH.”
In his speech, Mr Ong also shared his ministry's efforts to strengthen hospital capacity.
In particular, he highlighted plans to make transitional care facilities (TCFs) a "medium or even long-term" feature of Singapore's healthcare system.
TCFs were first set up during the pandemic to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed by lower-risk COVID-19 patients. They accommodate medically stable patients from public hospitals who are waiting for long term care arrangements, such as home or nursing home care.
During the pandemic, Singapore set up 500 TCF beds across five sites, including one at Changi Expo. These were run by private operators.
Mr Ong said these current facilities would be retained, with a new one set up in the West and in close proximity to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in coming months.
Singapore will continue to expand the community and step-down care sector, such as community hospitals and nursing homes, he added.