Monday 13 February 2012

Govt accredits 31 day rehab centres

Patients can tap govt subsidies and Medisave for bills
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 11 Feb 2012

A TOTAL of 31 day rehabilitation centres have been accredited since new service requirements kicked in last year.

This means their patients get more government subsidies and can tap Medisave to pay for therapy, said Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday.

Speaking at the inaugural Singapore Rehabilitation Conference, she added that the Agency for Integrated Care, which oversees intermediate and long-term care here, is working to get more centres to meet these requirements.

'With an ageing population and the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions such as stroke, hip fracture and heart failure, Singapore will face an increasingly heavy social, fiscal and economic burden,' said the MP for Hong Kah North.

Singapore has 48 of such day rehabilitation centres, which help patients regain their independence after suffering a traumatic experience like a stroke.

To get accredited, the centre must meet ministry standards in areas such as staffing and the way patients are cared for.

The requirements apply to centres funded by the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Dr Khor also added that more will be done to help rehab patients, some of whom may become disabled after an illness, be more independent.

For example, Peacehaven Nursing Home is running a pilot which will offer therapy to patients after their discharge from hospitals, she said.

Instead of sending patients straight home, they can stay at the home's new 32-bed Transitional Care Facility where they will go undergo rehabilitation for three to six months.

The ministry is also working with two more nursing homes to start similar facilities. The added therapy will help patients be better prepared for life on their own.

But despite the steps taken to improve the care for rehab patients, more can still be done for them, say doctors.

This includes ramping up staff in the sector, setting aside more hospital beds for rehabilitation use and improving financial help for patients.

Currently, Singapore has about 25 rehabilitation doctors.

'For a population of five million, this is truly insufficient,' said Dr Ng Yee Sien, who heads rehabilitation medicine at SGH.

Yet, demand for such services is set to rise, he said. One reason is that there is now better acute medical care, which means people live longer.

'Many people get cured, but many may also end up living with disability afterwards,' said Dr Ng, who is also the organising chairman of the conference, which is jointly organised by Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

Although there are about 700 physiotherapists, 500 occupational therapists and 200 speech therapists here, those numbers are also insufficient.

One of the conference speakers, Associate Professor Peter Lim, said it would be ideal for more beds to be set aside for rehabilitation use.

The senior consultant in rehabilitation medicine at SGH pointed out that there are only about 200 beds for this purpose at acute hospitals here.

A national insurance system tailored for the disabled will also help relieve their financial burden greatly, he added.

Currently, insurance schemes tend to cater more for acute episodes like injury from accidents, heart attacks and strokes.

'The longer-term care of people has been culturally thought to be left to the family. To a certain extent, the area of rehabilitation care has not received full attention,' explained Prof Lim.

In addition, attitudes must change, say both doctors.

Wheelchair-bound Yvonne recalled how she used to cry when people gave her disdainful looks on the street.

She also often struggles to enter the lift at MRT stations, as people would swarm into the lift before she could.

'They don't understand how much of a struggle it is to be disabled,' said the married woman in her 30s.

Her disability has not stopped her from going back to work and giving birth to a son in 2009, two years after she suffered a tumour on her spinal cord and lost the use of her legs.

She added: 'It doesn't mean that if you can't walk, then you are useless. Staying at home will make you more sick.'

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