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Doctor laments devastating financial stress as MOH instructs aesthetic clinics to remain shuttered

"Not allowing us to resume operations of any sort after the circuit breaker is devastating, and unfair to us. We will not be able to survive for much longer," said Dr Siew Tuck Wah, who runs the Radium Medical Aesthetics

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An aesthetic doctor lamented on the devastating financial stress that he is grappling with, after the Ministry of Health (MOH) informed him that aesthetic clinics are to remain shuttered even after the circuit breaker ends.

Dr Siew Tuck Wah, who runs the Radium Medical Aesthetics clinic, not only has extensive experience in the practice of aesthetic medicine, he also trains aspiring aesthetic doctors and spreads public awareness on aesthetic medicine, health and wellness. He is the President of SOSD (formerly Save Our Street Dogs) – one of the largest animal rescue charities in Singapore.

In a Facebook post published on Tuesday (19 May) evening, Dr Siew revealed that his clinic has been closed since the circuit breaker kicked in close to two months ago and indicated that he was looking forward to re-opening his clinic after the circuit breaker ends on June 1.

MOH, however, informed Dr Siew that aesthetic clinics cannot resume operations even after the circuit breaker ends. Calling such news a “heavy blow”, Dr Siew said that he was already struggling to survive in the past two months with no income and continued overheads and that this coming month is going to be “much worse.”

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Dr Siew explained, “The first 2 months of circuit breaker came with help in the form of rental rebates from the mall, and wage support schemes from the government. A third month of not operating will mean we have to continue with zero revenue, but without any financial help.”

For a clinic like Radium Medical Aesthetics, running costs like rental, manpower costs and loans amount to between S$160,000 and S$180,000 a month, according to Dr Siew, while consumables like fillers and toxins have cost him over S$10,000 due to its short shelf life. Dr Siew said:

“The common misconception is that aesthetic clinics make a lot of money. In fact, most of the revenue go (sic) into purchasing consumables, wages, rental and upgrading of machines in a rapidly evolving field, which (sic) customers are always looking out for newer, better technology.”

Dr Siew added that while he understood the need to implement a 2-month lockdown, he questioned why such harsh restrictions are imposed upon aesthetic clinics while other services like Traditional Chinese Medicine facilities and hair salons are allowed to open from 2 June. He wrote:

“As doctors, we entirely understand the need for social distancing. 2 months of lockdown is a necessity to stem the spread of Covid-19. But now, I cannot help but feel that these harsh measures imposed on aesthetic clinics from the ministry are driven by more than just public health considerations.”

Noting that the risk of COVID-19 spread in hair salons and other healthcare services are equal to, or greater than that in an aesthetic clinic, Dr Siew explained that aesthetic doctors know what measures to take to curb the spread of communicable diseases in their clinics. Asserting that the risk of transmission is lower in aesthetic clinics than in hair salons, Dr Siew said:

“As fully qualified doctors who have received 6 years of education and several more years in training, we of all people know what measures are necessary to maintain the highest standard of hygiene and to curb the spread of communicable diseases in our clinics.

“Spacing out appointments, sterilisation of surfaces before and after every patient, restriction of movements, and change of bedsheets after each patient are examples of some measures many clinics, including ours, are already currently doing since the existence of COVID-19.

“There is no logical reason why businesses such hair salons can open, while aesthetic clinics cannot. We fall into “healthcare services”, we perform “medical procedures”, and we implement “safe work” measures – all the conditions that are stated, and we have met, in Phase 1, Safe Reopening.”

The continued restrictions have now forced Dr Siew to consider what he had apparently been trying to avoid for months – getting his staff to go on no-pay leave, downsizing or laying off staff. Dr Siew asserted, “The Ministry is forcing us into a corner, so that we can no longer protect the staff we promised to look after under our care. Some of our staff are local, while some come from Malaysia, for a better life.

“That is now be threatened (sic) to be taken away because for reasons we cannot fathom, other than a deliberate attempt to single out the medical aesthetic industry. Or perhaps a desperate attempt to conserve manpower on the frontline (Many aesthetic doctors are volunteering at the frontline during the circuit breaker).

“But those are unfair reasons. Aesthetic doctors have pledged to continue helping out in the frontline even after 1 June, and even though we deal with cosmetic problems, we still upload (sic) the ethics of being a doctor.”

Dr Siew revealed that he comes from a poor family and had to take a loan to open his clinic, which he started from scratch. Sharing that he is still servicing that loan, Dr Siew asserted that the financial stress he has been saddled with due to MOH’s restrictions has been devastating and that his operations may not be able to survive for much longer:

“I started this clinic from scratch with no savings after spending a year doing charity work. I come from a poor family. I had to take a loan. Until today, I am still servicing that loan. I have worked every single day of the week for the past 4 years to keep the clinic, and the staff under me, fed.

“Yes, I am a doctor, and yes, Radium Medical Aesthetics is a clinic. But we are not spared from mundane needs to make ends meet. We are subject to the same financial stresses that all business in Singapore face.

“Not allowing us to resume operations of any sort after the circuit breaker is devastating, and unfair to us. We will not be able to survive for much longer.”

Read his post in full here:

This morning, we were informed by the Ministry of Health that aesthetic clinics CANNOT resume operations after the…

Posted by Siew Tuck Wah on Tuesday, May 19, 2020

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