It makes no sense not to have air conditioning in public hospitals even if they are managed like not-for-profit organisations

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by Leong Sze Hian/

An article in the Straits Times pointed out how despite progresses made in the past decades, hospital care  is still sticking to some principles set out 25 years ago. The article ‘Review ‘no air-conditioning’ norm for subsidised wards?’ suggested that it was time to review the proposals in the White Paper On Affordable Healthcare, published in 1993, to see if they are still relevant.

The article said that when people are sick, and are kept uncomfortable while they are receiving medical care, it reflects poorly on our society.

“Beds in subsidised wards in the hospital are in a room that is not air-conditioned, but ventilated with fans. On hot, humid days, the temperature goes up to 30 deg C or more. Meanwhile, nurses have an air-conditioned nurses station built within the ward, where they do administrative tasks as they monitor the patients. There is a glass wall between the nurses and patients.

It is hard to see how a hospital can justify providing staff with a cool environment to work in when not providing direct care for patients, while leaving patients – the very reason for having a hospital in the first place – to suffer the humid midday heat.”

In saying that cost can be kept in check by keeping the temperature at about 25˚C, the article argued that such controlled temperatures are no longer the luxury they were 25 years ago. Today, even public transport and bus interchanges are air-conditioned.

The Ministry of Health says on its website:“They (public hospitals) are to be managed like not-for-profit organisations. The public hospitals are subject to broad policy guidance by the Government through the Ministry of Health.”

In FY 2016, the National Healthcare Group (NHG) posted profits of $14 million, while the SingeHealth Group (SHG) posted profits of $2 million in FY2017 (references NHG and SHG Annual Reports. I am unable to find the financial statements of the National University Hospital System in its website.).

So, what are the combined profits of NHG, SHG and NUHS for last year?

From a financial perspective – surely the public hospitals can afford to provide air-conditioning for Class C and B2 wards, as I understand that it makes no significant difference in costs, because all large facilities like hospitals use central air-conditioning systems.