Elder care services falling short with rapidly increasing aging population

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A study on longterm care services conducted by professors from the National University of Singapore (NUS) for the Lien Foundation shows that Singapore needs improvement in these services now, especially in the light of the country’s aging population.

Care services in both homes and care facilities need an upgrade, the study shows.

The number of people needing subsidized care services at home and in facilities has grown from 12,000 in 2016 to 14,000 in 2017, while the number of nursing home patients who are subsidized is still at 10,000, based on data from the Ministry of Health (MOH).

This data shows that it is time to address senior care issues particularly in terms of affordability, funding, manpower, capacity and regulation. There are currently half a million Singaporeans from the ages of 65 and older, and by 2030, this number is expected to double.

The study was headed by Associate Professors from the NUS Social Science Research Centre, Department of Geography, Elaine Ho and Shirlena Huang.

Professor Ho said, “This is a study that impacts every one of us… If we want to be sustainable as an aging society and age healthily and happily, we actually need to put in the steps now rather than wait for the demographic explosion to take place.”

The study consulted with 103 people working in the care-services sector, from both public and private facilities, caregivers and experts in the field.

Only 2.5 percent of the 2016 national healthcare budget of $9.8 billion, or $ 240 million, was allotted to such care services. The MOH has spent only 8 percent of its budget on longterm care, which is equivalent to 0.19 per cent of Singapore’s gross domestic product, whereas countries who belong to the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development allot an average of 1.4 percent of their GDP on longterm care.

The study found that there has been a considerable increase in longterm home and facility services, from 5,900 in 2011 to 13,000 in 2017. And by 2020, there will be 3,200 more places that offer these facilities. 

However, this may not be enough. The country’s coordinating organization for longterm care, the Agency for Integrated Care got 7,800 requests for care services during the daytime in 2015, while there were only 3,500 slots available. By last year the availability increased to 5,000, which is still not enough.

The study found that families are also concerned over costs of longterm care. Most people prefer home care to being moved to facilities, but home care can be quite costly, with each family possibly needing to pay as much as $3,100 a month before receiving a subsidy. At a nursing home, the full cost of care is at $2,400 monthly.