Saturday 29 June 2013

Health sector 'ready for surge in patients'

Contingency plans in place if haze worsens; priority for polyclinics: Gan
By Poon Chian Hui, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2013

MEDICAL institutions are poised and prepared to tackle a surge in patients should the haze take a turn for the worse or linger on, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

In outlining contingency plans for the health-care sector, he said priority lies at the polyclinics, which are bearing the brunt of haze-related illnesses.

But overall, there are three areas of importance: Maintaining patient safety, meeting the demand of more patients and minimising disruption to medical services.

He also said the government subsidy scheme for haze-related ailments has attracted about 600 private clinics and helped more than 2,000 patients at polyclinics.

The scheme, which started last Friday, allows those aged 18 and younger, 65 and older, and the poor on public assistance to see a doctor for $10.

Mr Gan said: "We hope more private clinics will come on board - we continue to reach out to them."

But more important are the measures at polyclinics.

Doctors at the 18 polyclinics islandwide handled 16.5 per cent more patients last week compared with the week before.

"So far, the impact of haze on the hospitals has been manageable because most of the demand is at the polyclinics," Mr Gan said when he set out the action plan of these medical institutions.

Air-conditioned rooms will be turned into waiting areas when the air quality drops.

Staff will be diverted from less critical areas to manage patients hit by the haze.

"One area, for example, is routine screening and check-ups - these are not time-sensitive," said Mr Gan. "So we may need to reschedule them a week, two weeks or three weeks later."

And medical supplies are being reviewed to ensure that there is enough to cater for more people.

Speaking to reporters following his visit to Toa Payoh Polyclinic, Mr Gan said polyclinics will also be on the alert for vulnerable patients in the triage area, which is where staff assess patients when they arrive.

Such patients include young children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions.

If the situation worsens, the polyclinics also have a system to deliver medication to the homes of patients, he added.

Dr Lew Yii Jen, director of clinical services at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, said air-conditioned tents may even be set up at, say, the carpark for patients to wait for their turn to see the doctor.

In addition, consultations may be done over the phone with those whose conditions are stable, while others may be advised to see a nearby private doctor to ease the load on polyclinics, Dr Lew said.

Hospitals, in the meantime, are making space for more beds, said Mr Gan.

Air purifiers and air coolers are also being set up to support the care of weaker patients, he added.

SingHealth Polyclinics' assistant director for clinical services Derek Tse said a close watch is being kept on medical supplies. These include eye drops, cough mixtures, antibiotics, and drugs for fever, allergies and asthma.

But there is no fixed Pollutant Standards Index level at which the contingency plans will kick in.

"We give flexibility to the hospitals and institutions to judge," said Mr Gan. "Different patients have different reactions to the haze. What is more important is to proactively manage the patients based on their condition."

S'poreans confident of beating crisis; firms taken by surprise
By Feng Zengkun And Yasmine Yahya, The Straits Times, 28 Jun 2013

EIGHT in 10 Singaporeans are confident the country will get through the current haze situation, and two-thirds know how to keep themselves safe depending on the 24-hour pollution levels, says a survey by the national feedback unit Reach.

Reach chairman Amy Khor said the poll, conducted over the phone with 939 randomly selected Singaporeans from last Friday to Wednesday, captured people's anxiety over the haze's impact on their health and well-being, with most saying they were moderately or extremely concerned.

"But at the same time, it also clearly reflects the resilience of Singaporeans," Dr Khor said.

"This is an encouraging indication of our society's ability to persevere amid difficult situations and close ranks to tackle major challenges."

Three-quarters of the interviewees also said they turned to the mainstream media for their haze-related information, while slightly less than half checked the National Environment Agency (NEA) website or social media platforms.

This year's haze has been the country's worst in history, with the Pollutant Standards Index (PSI) soaring to a three-hour hazardous high of 401 last Friday. But while Singaporeans knew how to cope, another survey found that many firms were caught flat- footed by the extent of the crisis.

Employers were scrambling to find masks for staff and to come up with alternative work arrangements, according to the Singapore Business Federation (SBF).

It conducted an informal poll among members and found that less than half of the 231 businesses that responded had been fully prepared for the challenges thrown up by the haze, said SBF chief operating officer Victor Tay.

Around a third of them faced increased absenteeism, he added.

"One group had no issues, because they had stocked up on masks as part of their business continuity plans and had corporate policies to handle the situation, while the other respondents are only starting to develop policies to handle the health challenges caused by haze," he said.

Those who were prepared had also made plans to move certain outdoor work activities indoors, while others were quick to split up their employees so that they could take turns to work from home, he added.

The SBF is now preparing a handbook that includes case studies of how companies handled the haze situation well, Mr Tay said.

These include Network Express Courier Service, which equipped its dispatch riders with masks and eye drops, and sent them regular text messages to remind them to take breaks. Other companies said that although the haze has abated, they are still putting in place contingency measures.

Developer Hong Leong has stocked N95 masks that will be handed out if necessary when it launches its One Balmoral project at Cuscaden Road tomorrow.

SMRT and Singapore Power have action plans that detail what employees in various roles should do if the PSI reaches certain levels.

Severe haze will not affect SAF operational readiness
By Alfred Chua, TODAY, 29 Jun 2013

The operational readiness of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) will not be compromised in the event of severe haze levels, despite the measures put place to ensure that the health and safety of its personnel will not be jeopardised.

In the meantime, servicemen who were unable to take their fitness tests due to the haze last week will be granted an extension on their window period, the Ministry of Defence said yesterday.

At a visit to Jurong Island yesterday, Senior Parliamentary Secretary (Defence and National Development) Maliki Osman said: “Despite the heightened haze levels last week, we did not compromise on the patrolling … We (can) make adjustments to the way we deploy our personnel, but we do not compromise the nature of the security.”

Dr Maliki noted that the SAF has directives in place for the haze.

“The (training safety) guidelines allow us to calibrate the training allowance,” he said. “We will try to adjust according to the circumstances, to ensure that training can continue under such circumstances. If it’s not, we try to make adjustments, like bringing it indoors.”

He also said that the haze “is really a test of (the SAF’s) nimbleness” in responding to crises. “With proper precautionary measures in place, our servicemen can take part in their daily activities,” he said.

Dr Maliki was visiting the 3rd Battalion, Singapore Guards (3 GDS) — an active operational unit comprising full-time National Servicemen — who were on installation protection duty on Jurong Island.

The Commanding Officer of 3 GDS, Lieutenant-Colonel Freddie Tan, said his unit’s security operations on the island “will still go on, in spite of the haze”, but added that measures have been put in place to “ensure the safety and health of our servicemen are not compromised”.

Soldiers have to don N95 face masks once Pollutant Standards Index readings go above 200. “If it goes even higher, we will rotate the soldiers’ (duty shifts) on a more frequent basis, such that they will not have prolonged exposure to hazy conditions,” LTC Tan said.

The SAF said that 250 NSmen were affected last week by the IPPT test cancellation due to the haze. Currently, NSmen are given a one-year window period from their birthdays to complete the test.

An NSman who does not do so is considered to have defaulted. The 250 men were at the end of the window period and had booked their IPPT during the three days tests were cancelled. They will be given an extension, likely to be around one month.

Meanwhile, training restrictions —like the halting of outfield training — that were put in place last week were lifted on Wednesday, the SAF said.

Head of Civil Service visits Home Team officers at Woodlands Checkpoint


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