Friday 14 March 2014

Parliament Highlights - 12 Mar 2014

Committee of Supply Debate: MOH, MCCY

Subsidies for all to pay MediShield Life premiums
Help for low- and middle-income Singaporeans will be permanent: Gan
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

The pioneer generation who are 65 years and older will have hefty 40-60 per cent subsidies.

There will also be transitional premium subsidies for everyone, regardless of income. This is part of the Government's decision "to support most of the initial costs of universal coverage", he said.

As a result, the Government's direct spending on health care is projected to increase to $7.5 billion in the coming financial year - almost double the $4 billion it spent just three years ago.

That goes up to $8 billion if Medisave top-ups are included.

As promised, the Government will take on a larger share of national health-care expenditure, from 33 per cent in FY2012 to 40 per cent or more.

Premiums for MediShield Life are expected to be substantially higher than current MediShield premiums, causing people to worry that it could wipe out their Medisave funds.

Mr Gan told Parliament yesterday that with the top-ups and subsidies, most people will not use more than half their annual Medisave contributions for premiums.

He said that for a typical low- to medium-income household with working age parents and two children, "we aim to keep their net premiums to the current level or lower, after taking into account the permanent government subsidies, additional Medisave contributions and top-ups".

Similarly, Singaporeans aged 55 to 64 whose income is at or below the median will see no premium increase. Again, this is after taking into account higher Medisave contributions and various top-ups.

If, in spite of all the government help, there are still people who cannot afford the premiums, Medifund will step in.

But help has to go to those who need it, said Mr Gan. "Those who have the means should still pay their own share. In this way, we look after one another."

The minister also gave an update of Healthcare 2020. Singapore is on track in its goal to build more hospitals, nursing homes and day-care centres that will add 11,000 more beds, he said.

But while this remains important, the Health Ministry will shift its focus this year to providing more and better home-care services, so that more seniors can continue to live at home, rather than be institutionalised.

The help will be comprehensive, with medical, personal and rehabilitation care. The Health Ministry will fund or subsidise these services. By 2020, up to 10,000 people can get home medical and nursing care and 7,500, home personal care.

Caregivers will also be taken care of, with respite services for seven to 30 days a year so that they do not burn out. Those who need a break over the weekend will welcome a move that will let them leave the patient at an elder-care centre for a few hours.

This will "allow our elders to age in place and live their golden years with or close to their families", Mr Gan said.

Medisave use expanded to cut outpatient costs
Changes mean lower out-of-pocket payments and more funds can be withdrawn for chronic care, scans
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

MEDISAVE purse strings will be loosened further to help people cope with the cost of their outpatient treatments.

Currently, people can use only up to $400 per Medisave account a year for chronic diseases, and up to $600 for outpatient scans, but only if the scans are for cancer.

From July 1, the Government is scrapping the $30 deductible amount patients must pay each time they use Medisave for chronic outpatient treatments.

This move means people will have less out-of-pocket payments to make, and can draw more from the $400 annual maximum to defray their bills for chronic care.

However, the 15 per cent co-payment remains.

And from early next year, people can use up to $300 a year for non-cancer-related scans needed for outpatient diagnosis and treatment. These include magnetic resonance imaging, computed tomography scans, X-rays and ultrasound scans.

Medisave currently pays for such scans for patients who are hospitalised and this has led some to ask to be warded so that they can make a claim from Medisave.

However, this $300 cannot be used to increase the payment for cancer scans beyond the $600 cap.

The other change for outpatient treatment is that, from next year, older people can withdraw up to $200 more a year from Medisave for outpatient treatment.

Details of who qualifies and what it can be used for are still being worked out and will be announced in the next few months.

But Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said this Flexi-Medisave scheme can be used for coughs and colds at a private clinic that is on the Community Health Assist Scheme. It can also be used to pay for chronic care if a person has used up all the $400 a year allowed for this.

The call to let people draw more from their Medisave was made in Parliament yesterday by MPs such as Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam.

He said: "Patients above age 75 should be allowed to use their Medisave without being subject to annual limits. This will ensure that they are not deterred from seeking treatment because of high out-of-pocket payments."

In his response, Mr Gan said many elderly Singaporeans want to be self-reliant and not be a burden to their children, and have asked to be allowed to tap their Medisave more easily.

Medisave contributions will go up by one percentage point next year.

Helping more seniors 'age in place' at home
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

MORE seniors will get an opportunity to be tended to in their own homes rather than in an institution, after the Ministry of Health announced plans to increase capacity and roll out more subsidies for home care.

It would also give hospitals more breathing space in the tight hospital bed situation.

The Government is committing funds to help home care providers expand and the target is to allow 10,000 people to be on home medical and nursing care by 2020, and 7,500 on home personal care, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said yesterday.

The corresponding numbers of people who can get such help currently are 5,400 and 1,100.

Home health care refers to visits by medical professionals like doctors, nurses and physiotherapists, while home personal care typically refers to help with daily activities like bathing.

The need for more home care services in the light of the ageing population was raised in Parliament by several MPs, including Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) and Workers' Party secretary-general Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC).

In her reply, Dr Khor also said seniors who cannot access rehabilitation services will be able to get up to four months of therapy at home from next month.

Those undergoing home care can also get their homes assessed for potential hazards, to help them transition safely from their hospital stay.

Subsidies for both the rehabilitation and home assessment services will be based on means-testing, and can be as much as $97 per visit.

The ministry is also looking at funding home care providers on a per-client, rather than per-visit basis. Currently, funding is provided based on the number of care hours or home visits needed.

The change means the Government will provide a fixed amount of funding per month for each senior under a provider's care.

The new funding model is likely to be implemented in the third quarter of this year.

"It gives service providers more certainty of longer-term financial support for our clients," said Mr Kavin Seow, director of home care and caregiver services at Touch Community Services, welcoming the move.

Home care providers will also have to come up with more comprehensive care offerings, so clients can get their medical and personal care needs - like bathing - tended to all at one go.

"Today, some seniors may find that home care services are delivered in a fragmented manner with lack of coordination between separate health and personal care providers," Dr Khor said.

"This creates barriers to home care and is not ideal as an individual's health and personal care needs are closely intertwined."

Hassle of daily polyclinic visits avoided
By Linette Lai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

AFTER an operation last July, Ms Masayang Abdul Samad was left with an open wound in her left arm which needed cleaning daily.

She could have gone to a polyclinic to get the job done. But this would have been a hassle, as the 41-year-old is blind and would have had to find someone to accompany her.

Instead, she engaged a nurse from the Home Nursing Foundation, who went to her home for the next three months to help her with the cleaning. "Without home care I would most probably also have stayed in hospital longer to have the wound settled," she said.

She also gets weekly help for basic housework, like mopping and sweeping the floor.

"I can do housework myself, but I'm not able to see, so it might not be very clean," said Ms Masayang, who is unemployed and who was left blind in 2007 after complications following a kidney infection.

She is set to benefit from the Ministry of Health's plans to provide more subsidised options and raise standards in the home-care sector.

The wound in Ms Masayang's arm has since healed, but the nurse still stops by fortnightly to help organise her medicines into daily dosages.

She takes more than 10 different medicines for her high blood pressure, kidney problems, and diabetes.

"On my own, I would have to feel the shape and size of every tablet," she said. "It's very troublesome."

Easier for patients and family members
The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014


Typical care options after leaving hospital:
- Making weekly trips to the hospital to see doctors, nurses and therapists
- Employing a maid to look after patient. Family members have to take time off from work until maid arrives
- Taking on role of full-time caregiver by family member
- Admitting the person to a nursing home fitted with elderly-friendly features that provide a safe environment


Additional care options after being discharged:
- Doctors, nurses and therapists go to the patient's home
- Interim caregiver service provides up to 12 hours of care a day while longer-term arrangements are being worked out
- Day-care centres give the elderly a place to go for rehabilitation and recreation while family members are at work
- Subsidies for installing grab-bars and ramps at home to allow independent living

Robust home care can plug gap
By Salma Khalik, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

IN ASIAN societies, filial piety is highly valued. But in modern Singapore, people sometimes find it difficult to carry out their duty as children or grandchildren.

For them, the announcement that the Ministry of Health will give greater priority to developing home-based care this year is welcome news.

No senior wants to end his or her days in an institution, as just another patient in a row of beds. But many do, because their families, while willing, are not able provide the care they need at home.

A robust home-care service can help plug this glaring gap.

At the same time, affordable and accessible home care may also help to solve some of Singapore's health-care woes.

It could free up hospital beds if patients are more willing to go home, with the promise that they will receive 12 hours of care at home for 12 out of the first 14 days of their being discharged.

Such help would allay fears that the patient may take a turn for the worse after going home.

It would also give carers time to gain confidence in caring for the patient.

The home rehabilitation service, where a therapist or therapy aide provides rehabilitative care - for up to four months - for patients who have difficulty going to a centre for treatment, is also a laudable move.

Again, it means that the person can live at home, instead of in a nursing home or community hospital, in order to receive the care.

For those with a long-term illness requiring either medical or personal care, having such care delivered at home would be a great relief for the family.

But while these at-home services will be warmly welcomed by most people, they are not easy to implement.

A doctor, nurse or therapist can attend to many more patients at a centre than if he were to make house visits.

So for the same number of patients, many more health-care professionals will be needed - a problem that cannot be overstated amid the continuing struggle to find enough health-care manpower.

On the other hand, the move could be a new option in providing part-time work for retired health-care professionals who may be willing to care for someone in their neighbourhood.

As with almost everything, the devil is in the details. Much thought and planning will have to go into it if home care is to take off on a large scale.

And, of course, there will still be patients who require institutionalised care. Hence the need to keep building up capacity.

Health programmes for taxi drivers and cashiers
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

THE Health Ministry is taking a jobs-based approach to help older workers stay healthy and continue working.

This year, it will start health programmes aimed at taxi drivers and supermarket cashiers, said Senior Minister of State (Prime Minister's Office) Heng Chee How yesterday.

These are sectors with a large proportion of mature workers: 80 per cent of taxi drivers are aged 50 and older.

Programmes will be tailored to the health issues unique to each particular job. For example, ergonomic programmes can be designed for retail assistants, who tend to develop musculoskeletal disorders.

"To stay healthy is necessary. Our hope is that senior workers in Singapore can live well, long and free of worries and troubles," he added.

Several Members of Parliament also spoke about the importance of active ageing programmes.

Mr Yeo Guat Kwang (Ang Mo Kio GRC) said seniors should be encouraged to take part in active ageing programmes "so that they do not feel disempowered when they grow old".

Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC) suggested a seniors' development account to pay for approved products and services associated with active ageing and learning.

Others, such as Mr Seng Han Thong (Ang Mo Kio GRC) and Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West), noted that seniors are treasures.

Said Dr Lam: "Many people have often taken a pessimistic perspective of ageing as a 'silver tsunami', adding burden to the society.

"But I beg to differ as I see ageing as a beauty and a treasure."

Excluded from integrated plans? Benefits of MediShield Life assured
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

PEOPLE who are excluded from integrated shield plans (IPs) today will still get the basic benefits of MediShield Life, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.

He was responding to concerns by MPs yesterday on how the new national insurance scheme to cover all Singaporeans for life will affect IPs, which are offered by private insurers.

Nearly two-thirds of MediShield policyholders are on such plans, which made the news recently when the Health Ministry took two IP insurers to task for reducing dialysis payouts.

Yesterday, in his round-up speech on his ministry's budget, Mr Gan said IPs are different from MediShield as they provide options for better benefits "over and above" the national scheme's basic coverage.

However, the Government requires IP providers to guarantee renewals to protect policyholders.

The chairman of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Lam Pin Min, later asked whether the private IP providers are allowed to reject or exclude pre-existing conditions, given the universal coverage of MediShield Life.

Dr Lam (Sengkang West) said he had come across cases where IP underwriters excluded certain conditions even after doctors certified that these conditions had been treated and would not cause long-term problems.

Replying, Mr Gan said all Singaporeans will be covered when MediShield Life kicks in next year.

All IPs will then ride on top of the basic MediShield Life coverage.

"Even those who are excluded today under the IP plans will be covered under MediShield Life, but only for the basic benefits that Medishield Life will provide," he said.

Extra benefits given by IPs, like additional coverage and payouts for higher ward classes, "may still be subject to exclusion depending on the commercial terms that IP providers will work out".

Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam then sought to clarify whether IPs can drop the coverage of specific illnesses when the plans are renewed, such as refusing to cover prostate cancer if the policyholder has a relapse in the future.

Mr Gan said: "If you're covered today by an IP and if you develop a new disease, the IP must continue to cover you.

"If you already have an exclusion, you will still be covered by MediShield Life."

The MediShield Life review committee and his ministry have received feedback on the affordability of IPs, said Mr Gan.

They will look into appropriate options for upgrading coverage beyond MediShield Life, he added.

However, he urged Singaporeans to plan wisely and purchase an appropriate plan "that is affordable not just when we are young but also in old age", as premiums for private plans rise significantly as they grow older.

"If we plan to seek treatment at public hospitals, a more expensive insurance plan covering the cost of care in private hospitals may not be necessary," he said.

Mr Gan also welcomed preliminary recommendations on MediShield Life by the review committee.

These include removing the lifetime claim limit and enhancing payouts by raising claim limits and lowering co-insurance.

Pay rise for docs and dentists in public sector
More than 4,000 senior staff to get 9per cent hike in their basic pay
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

ABOUT 4,150 senior doctors and dentists in the public sector will get a 9 per cent increase in their basic pay next month.

This comprises 4,000 senior doctors - namely specialists, family and resident physicians, and specialist trainees - and 140 dentists of similar seniority.

The move is part of the Health Ministry's larger push to retain staff in public health care, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor yesterday.

At the same time, the ministry will seek to augment the pool by reaching out to new sources.

Examples include mid-career professionals and former nurses who want to return to full-time work.

"The ability to attract talent and manpower into the health-care sector will be key to our success in upscaling our health-care capacity," said Dr Khor in Parliament.

Singapore is projected to need 20,000 more health-care professionals by 2020.

The workforce has grown by 6,000 between 2011 and last year.

But Ms Sylvia Lim (Aljunied GRC) said that many Singaporean doctors leave for the private sector due to heavier case loads and stressful residency programmes in the public sector.

"Failure to stem the tide of attrition means that Singaporean patients at public health institutions are dealing more often with foreign staff, and experience some language barriers," Ms Lim added.

Dr Khor replied: "While we may not be able to fulfil all these aspirations in the public health-care sector, we can do more to recognise the important roles that our health-care professionals play by paying them competitively."

The pay rise is part of a remuneration framework that recognises excellence in education, research, administration and clinical care.

Under the same framework, 45,000 public health-care workers got a pay rise in 2012.

Nurses may soon get their turn too.

The national task force which charts the future direction of nursing is expected to complete its review and submit its recommendations in the second half of this year, said Dr Khor.

The task force is looking at improving nurses' education and career progression, as well as increasing recognition and rewards for them.

Former nurses keen on returning are being helped to do so.

Refresher courses and training allowances are being given to help them ease back into the job.

Last year, following an outreach exercise, more than 600 said they were keen on returning to nursing.

A first group of 27 has since rejoined, she said.

Nevertheless, Singapore needs to top up its health-care workforce by recruiting foreign professionals.

They will be given language courses, orientation and immersion programmes to "help them adapt to the local working environment", Dr Khor added.

Steps to curb childhood obesity, smoking
By Goh Chin Lian, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

RESTRICTIONS on advertising of food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and salt to children will take effect from January next year, to curb childhood obesity.

And to protect youth, a ban on shops from displaying cigarettes will be in place by the end of next year, said Parliamentary Secretary for Health Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim yesterday.

His ministry later said nutrient criteria are being developed to decide which food and beverage products can be advertised to children.

The guidelines will be incorporated into the Singapore Code of Advertising Practice.

As for the ban on displaying cigarettes, retailers will get 12 months' grace after the law is gazetted.

Separately, a national weight-management programme will be launched on Saturday.

The 1 Million Kg Challenge aims to have at least 300,000 people shed one million kg over the next three years.

Marketing head Joanna Ong-Ash hopes to shed 8kg from her 81kg frame with exercise and a low-sugar diet.

The 44-year-old wants to do this so that she can be taken off her pills to control hypertension.

Focus of care model has to shift
By Andrea Ong, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

EVEN as hospitals ramp up capacity to meet rising demand, Singapore's health-care model must transform to rely less on acute care and focus more on community and home care.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong emphasised this new direction several times in Parliament yesterday, in response to questions on the recent hospital bed crunch.

He was replying to Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang, who rose thrice to ask if the crunch was the result of poor planning, and if housing patients in hospital corridors and tents was going to be the "new normal".

Mr Low (Aljunied GRC) said he had raised the issue as far back as in 2005, when then Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said foreign workers were crowding out others needing emergency care at hospitals.

He also cited Mr Khaw saying in 2007 that he preferred to under-supply than to over-supply in public hospitals to minimise over-consumption.

Pointing to the bed crunch as a Third World problem, Mr Low added: "One certainly hopes that Singapore does not make history by going from Third World to First, and back to Third within one generation."

However, Mr Gan stressed that building health-care capacity has been a "key focus". Beds in public hospitals and nursing homes increased by over 30 per cent from 2003 to 2013.The Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and integrated building at Changi General Hospital will open at the end of this year, while Sengkang General Hospital will be ready in 2018.

Hospital bed projections are also reviewed regularly, taking into account factors such as population growth. But Mr Gan said it is important to "move beyond acute beds and provide appropriate care to patients in the right setting".

Acute care is expensive and intense, he said. It was better for patients to recover in step-down facilities like community hospitals.

Mr Low noted that many restructured hospitals are accredited by America's Joint Commission International for certain standards, like having minimum distances between beds. He asked if housing patients in corridors or tents was acceptable to the JCI. Mr Gan gave the assurance that hospitals are "actively managing" short-term demand.

Mr Low, however, pressed the minister to give a gauge of a reasonable waiting time for a bed.

Mr Gan said the key priority is to look after the interests and safety of patients. "For a normal day, we should not expect patients to wait more than a few hours."

More power to tackle nuisances
Govt looking at legislative changes to handle inconsiderate residents
By Priscilla Goy, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

THE POLICE may soon get more teeth to deal with rowdy residents or those who burn joss paper indiscriminately.

The Government is looking at changes to legislation, such as the Miscellaneous Offences (Public Order and Nuisance) Act, to deal with such public nuisances, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

He was responding to Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC), who had asked if the authorities were considering changing the legal framework to deal with residents who, for instance, make excessive noise at void decks.

Mr Wong said: "Our key thrust is on public education and mediation, but we recognise that there are cases which do require rules and penalties."

Mr Nair had pointed out that the authorities are now unable to do much about inconsiderate residents, as there are no clear rules on what are acceptable levels for various public nuisances, and what penalties may be meted out.

Every year, government agencies receive more than 70,000 complaints about noise - residents' top peeve. Other common grouses include verbal abuse and how common corridors are used.

Mr Nair, a lawyer, said the rules could be developed as part of the public consultation exercise on a new community dispute resolution framework.

This framework could see the setting up of a new tribunal in the second half of the year. Under the tribunal, a judge will hear the cases and have the power to issue orders. Those who refuse to abide by the orders may be prosecuted.

The move, announced by Mr Wong last Saturday, will give bite to the current dispute resolution system, which is voluntary.

Currently, those who cannot resolve disputes on their own or with the help of grassroots leaders can take matters to the Community Mediation Centre. But in 60 per cent of its 1,500 applications a year, one party refuses to turn up.

While the grouses often appear to be minor at first, it would usually be "too late" and some residents would refuse mediation by the time the disputes are taken to grassroots leaders, said Ms Irene Ng (Tampines GRC).

"For many, their relationship with their neighbours have become so toxic, having festered for so long, that they just want their neighbours to suffer," she said.

But the tribunal should be the last resort for handling difficult cases, Mr Wong stressed, supported by Ms Ng and Mr Alex Yam (Chua Chu Kang GRC). Mr Wong added: "We want to promote community ownership and collective responsibility, and mediation should remain the first priority."

On bringing disputes to the tribunal, Ms Ng said: "While it would restore a semblance of peace in the neighbourhood, it would probably destroy the possibility of neighbours having any kind of relationship after that."

The public consultation paper can be viewed at

Artists, art groups to be consulted on $20m fund
By Corrie Tan, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

ARTISTS and arts groups will be consulted on the details, including the selection process and criteria, of a new $20 million government fund to promote Singapore artists abroad, said Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong.

Mr Wong gave the assurance yesterday when replying to Mr Baey Yam Keng (Tampines GRC) and Nominated MP Janice Koh.

Both had asked how the fund would be administered, with Mr Baey citing a Straits Times report that said the ministry would select the fund's recipients.

Elaborating, a spokesman for the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said in an e-mailed statement to The Straits Times: "As the nature of these exchanges will vary and may include festivals, fairs, collaborative work or travelling exhibitions, there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to identifying suitable artists or institutions to participate."

There are existing grants under the National Arts Council for which artists can apply to showcase their work or undergo training abroad. This new fund, however, is not a grant and so will work differently. Its selection process will vary from case to case, and is likely to be done with international partners, such as co-commissioners or curators.

Said Mr Wong: "When we want to showcase our artists overseas we have to think about what markets to go to, which audiences we want to target, if at all, what events, what platforms.

"These are international events which may have their own curators, their own organisers. We will also have to take their views into consideration."

He confirmed the fund, to be disbursed over five years, would support genres such as film, design and contemporary music.

It will also develop artists, audiences and institutions through international exchanges.

In some cases, the partnerships could take the form of residencies, where Singaporean artists could be invited to express interest in participating, the MCCY spokesman said.

Mr Baey had also asked about giving better support to traditional arts groups, such as the Hokkien opera troupe Sin Sai Hong, which is closing down.

Mr Sam Tan, the ministry's senior parliamentary secretary, said government support would continue. The traditional arts are getting more funds, with $17 million to be spent by the year's end.

The five-year National Traditional Arts plan, launched in 2011, includes grants to help groups stage shows and to support new companies. There are plans to extend the initiative. Mr Tan said in Mandarin: "What we hope to do is to improve their management and help them be more professional so that they can be more effective in improving their performance. Then the audience will also come and support them even more.

Training for new volunteer youth corps begins in June
By Janice Tai, The Straits Times, 13 Mar 2014

THE first intake of the new volunteer youth corps will start training in June, after recruitment began last month.

Under the one-year programme, called Youth Corps Singapore (YCS), the volunteers will go through a structured residential training programme to equip them with knowledge and leadership skills, Acting Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Lawrence Wong said in Parliament yesterday.

They will also embark on both a local and an overseas volunteering stint, lasting three to six months each.

The youth corps is the first national-level programme of its kind, and also "a first in many steps towards more impactful youth development and engagement", Mr Wong added.

The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) is also looking at how it can better engage young people through having more youth-oriented spaces such as *Scape.

More details will be given later.

The first cohort will comprise 200 young people aged 15 to 35 years, mainly nominated by youth organisations and institutes of higher learning. The target is to have 6,000 volunteers each year.

The initiative, first announced by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at last year's National Day Rally, is meant to spur young Singaporeans to take up community work and continue to do so beyond their school years.

Young adults tend to volunteer less after they start working. Statistics from the National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre showed that only 28 per cent of those aged between 25 and 34 volunteered in 2012, compared to 43 per cent for those aged 15 to 24.

The YCS will be funded by the $100 million National Youth Fund, created last year to pay for youth-led social initiatives.

The volunteers will receive allowances if they want to take time out from their studies to join the YCS full time.

They will also receive training and mentoring, government funding for projects and networking opportunities.

Working in teams, they will either develop their own projects - to care for the elderly with dementia or fight global warming, for instance - after doing research on the ground, or be matched to projects based on critical local needs.

To enable social mixing, team members will come from different schools and organisations.

"We want our youth to appreciate different perspectives, develop strong social consciousness and the sense that everyone can be of service to society," said a spokesman for MCCY.

At the end of their time in the YCS, participants can also get a "pay-it-forward" grant to use to mentor new volunteers.

Calling for those passionate about the community to apply, Mr Wong said: "There is a rigorous selection process, but we don't want that to be a deterrent to the youth from stepping forward. We are not looking at academic qualifications. We are looking for youth with strong leadership qualities, commitment to serve the community and a desire to learn."

Polytechnic student Samuel Do, 19, who has been nominated for the YCS, used to volunteer on an ad hoc basis, organising a campfire for autistic children, for instance. "I was busy with school and there wasn't quite a platform for longer-term volunteerism," he said. "I hope joining this will make it easier for me to continue serving even after things get hectic when I start work."

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