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Jamus Lim expresses concern that Singapore’s medical system is ‘starting to creak under the strain’

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“It is vital that we address capacity issues now, before the system erodes further,” he wrote. He also listed several suggestions to help address the issue, including relaxing entry barriers for doctors and competing better for domestic and international nursing talent.

SINGAPORE: While acknowledging that Singapore still has an excellent healthcare system, Workers’ Party MP Jamus Lim (Sengkang GRC) said it’s “starting to creak under the strain.”

He also pointed out in a Monday (June 26) Facebook post that the country only has 5.7 ICU (intensive care unit) beds per 100,000 people, which is half the average of member countries of the high-income economies in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

This is one of the reasons for the long admission wait times at hospitals at times that has been reported in the news.

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“It is vital that we address capacity issues now, before the system erodes further,” he wrote, also acknowledging that the government appears to understand the present challenges to the medical system and citing that Health Minister Ong Ye Kung has said that the Ministry of Health is addressing the problem.

“My hope is that we will not return to a business-as-usual mode of trying to keep things too lean, but instead strive to improve the quality of our healthcare system not just by optimizing on cost, but also on quality of service,” he added.

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Assoc Prof Lim’s post was in the context of having debated the issue in Parliament last month. And although the issue has been brought up repeatedly, it continues to be “important and relevant,” he wrote.

“My contribution this round was to look at the resources we currently devote to healthcare, and to ask if these are either sufficient or reasonable (for an economy at our stage or development and with our demographics).

Our nation’s healthcare spending is pretty lean. Whether you think it is justified depends, in part, on whether you think more like an economist (where efficiency considerations trump everything) or an engineer (who factors in redundancy for contingencies).”

While the MP teaches Economics at ESSEC Business School, he says that he’s found himself leaning toward the engineer’s side because “the costs of the system not performing during critical times is too great not to sacrifice some efficiency in normal times.”

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Aside from the low ICU bed count, he added that Singapore’s regular bed count is also low. Not only is it less than high-income Western countries, but it is also “even significantly less than our East Asian neighbours like Japan, South Korea, and even China.”

Additionally, he wrote that Singapore seems to be unable to sustain the “soft infrastructure”, such as doctors and nurses, that would improve the healthcare system.

“This has led to intolerable increases in wait times for admission. The press has repeatedly published reports of how long waits—even exceeding 24 hours—are not unheard of, especially for certain hospitals. And folks share with us that when they’re in, they often feel that they’re rushed to be discharged, perhaps because hospitals are trying to free up scarce beds,” he added.

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Assoc Prof Lim listed several suggestions to help address the issue, including relaxing entry barriers for doctors and competing better for domestic and international nursing talent. /TISG

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