Sengkang hospital to open two years early
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 2 Dec 2011
THE general hospital being built in Sengkang will open in 2018 - two years ahead of schedule - even as efforts continue to ease the bed crunch in hospitals.
Located along Sengkang East Road near Cheng Lim LRT station, the hospital, which is expected to have 500 to 600 beds, has neither been designed nor given a name yet.
Minister of Health Gan Kim Yong wrote on his blog 'Health Minister Says...' that legislators, members of the public and the media, concerned over the squeeze in existing hospitals, have asked him whether health-care infrastructure can be expanded more quickly.
Public hospitals have occupancy rates of more than 85 per cent, which makes them exceedingly packed, as the number of empty beds includes those in intensive care or for other special needs.
Mr Gan said: 'We have indeed accelerated our hospital-building programme over the past few years to keep pace with the rising health-care needs of the population.'
The 550-bed Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun, which opened last year, hardly made a dent in easing the bed crunch.
Next to open are the 700-bed Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong in 2014, and two community hospitals - one in Yishun and the other in Jurong - between 2014 and 2015.
These hospitals will add beds to the system, and existing hospitals are also expanding, said Mr Gan.
He hoped that the opening of nursing homes would also ease the problem. However, his ministry was unable to give details of the nursing homes and community hospitals being planned for the coming years.
Mr Gan warned that adding beds to the system was only part of the solution.
'We also need to find more innovative and cost-effective ways to deliver health-care services, and to optimise the use of our health-care capacity,' he said.
His brief for the Sengkang hospital, therefore, is for it to work with the nursing homes, general practitioners and home health-care providers near it, so that health care at the different levels will be seamless for patients moving, for example, from hospital to nursing home.Planning for manpower to begin early
Dr Chia Shi Lu, an orthopaedic surgeon at Singapore General Hospital tasked with looking into the new hospital's manpower needs, told The Straits Times that getting enough good-quality people was a major worry.
Dr Chia, who is also a Member of Parliament, is getting started on manpower planning early 'so that the limiting factor to achieving full operating capacity will not be manpower'.
As a result of the bed crunch, public hospitals here have resorted to creative stop-gap measures, such as putting beds along corridors, renting ward space from private hospitals and moving stable patients to nursing homes.
A positive outcome of the crunch is that hospitals have stepped up their preventive health-care programmes, designed to keep patients out by ensuring they stay well.
Nurses call up patients with frequent admission histories to check that they are taking their medication and to get them to see their doctors at the first sign of worsening illness.
Some hospitals work with nursing homes by sending their doctors to the homes to treat patients, rather than have the patients taken to hospital.
Dr Lam Pin Min, who chairs the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health and is the MP for Sengkang West, said the hospital 'will add much convenience and decrease travelling and waiting time' for his constituents.
The nearest hospitals for them now are Tan Tock Seng and Khoo Teck Puat, which are almost at full capacity, so long waiting times are not unusual, he said.
Ms Stephanie Chiam, a housewife in her 40s whose 12th-floor flat overlooks the site of the Sengkang hospital, said she likes the convenience of living next to it - even if she will hear the frequent wail of ambulances.
She said she had not known of the hospital when she bought her flat some years back.
'But it is not an issue,' she said. 'Some people think it is bad feng shui, but I am not superstitious about living near a hospital.'