Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Healthcare pioneer Kwa Soon Bee dies

Ex-permanent secretary spearheaded growth of hospitals and laid foundation for local healthcare system
By Pearl Lee, The Straits Times, 31 Oct 2016

Pioneer-generation civil servant Kwa Soon Bee died yesterday morning, at the age of 86.

He had suffered a stroke last week and was hospitalised.

Dr Kwa, who was born in 1930, had a long and distinguished career in the medical services during which he laid the foundation for Singapore's healthcare system.

He joined the civil service as a medical officer in 1956 after graduating from the King Edward Vll College of Medicine at the University of Malaya here, and retired from public service in 1996 as permanent secretary for health and director of medical services.

He was the first local doctor to specialise in haematology, the study and treatment of blood and blood-related disorders, and later helmed Singapore General Hospital (SGH).

Dr Kwa was a younger brother of Madam Kwa Geok Choo, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's mother, who died in 2010.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said in a statement yesterday that Dr Kwa was a "true pioneer" of healthcare in Singapore.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong added that Dr Kwa laid a strong foundation for the nation's modern healthcare system.

"Although I never worked with Dr Kwa directly, I have benefited from the legacy he left behind, 20 years after his retirement," he said. "Many of our current hospital buildings and polyclinic facilities were built or redeveloped during his tenure as permanent secretary and director of medical services."

The "3M" framework - Medisave, MediShield and Medifund - which Dr Kwa implemented has also kept healthcare affordable for all Singaporeans, Mr Gan added.

Dr Kwa received a Singapore government scholarship, shortly after starting his medical career, to study in Britain, where he specialised in clinical and laboratory haematology.

He was put in charge of the Blood Transfusion Service on his return in 1963, and led the drive to significantly increase blood collection here.

In 1968, he was appointed medical superintendent of the then Kandang Kerbau Hospital and put in charge of reorganising it, as well as implementing family planning programmes. He became medical superintendent of SGH in 1972, and chaired its planning committee, which oversaw the development and building of the current hospital.

In 1984, he was appointed permanent secretary for health and concurrently director of medical services. In that role, he spearheaded the redevelopment of public hospitals and institutions including Changi General and Tan Tock Seng hospitals and the Institute of Mental Health, as well as the development of specialist centres and polyclinics.

Dr Kwa also started the national healthy lifestyle programme, and chaired Jurong Bird Park for 20 years, as well as Wildlife Reserves Singapore which brought together the park, Singapore Zoo and Night Safari. He also played a key role in developing the Singapore Armed Forces medical corps.

MOH noted that Dr Kwa also led the corporatisation of public hospitals to make healthcare services more efficient and responsive, and said: "He personally nurtured many of our healthcare leaders of today."

A year after Dr Kwa retired in 1996, he was conferred an honorary fellowship by the Singapore Medical Association.

Professor Tan Ser Kiat, master of the Academy of Medicine, said then that Singapore's healthcare institutions were "testimony to his farsightedness, vision and skills as administrator, professional and planner".

He added that Dr Kwa "systematically and meticulously identified, talent-scouted and trained staff" for the health service, and advocated the development of ancillary health professionals like nurses, physiotherapists and radiographers.

SGH also paid tribute to Dr Kwa's contributions, noting that his involvement with it started in 1951, when he had his clinical training.

"Despite his various responsibilities, Dr Kwa would always have time for his fellow colleagues - to chat, to listen, to guide and encourage. Regardless of seniority or designation, he treated his staff as friends, with respect and equal regard," it said in a Facebook post.

"At the 1996 SGH gala dinner and dance, Dr Kwa said: 'As one who has been closely associated with the developments of the hospital from the early 1950s, I can sincerely say that my best memories have been the times spent within its wards, walking the corridors of the old and new hospitals amongst friends, at work and at play,'" SGH added. "We have lost a great leader, mentor, clinician and friend."

Dr Kwa will be cremated tomorrow.

Dr Kwa, the healthcare pioneer and nature lover
By Charissa Yong, The Straits Times, 1 Nov 2016

The late Dr Kwa Soon Bee laid the foundation for today's public hospital system and left an indelible mark on Singapore's healthcare system, said President Tony Tan Keng Yam yesterday.

He was also a nature lover who played a pivotal role in the growth of wildlife parks here for over three decades, Wildlife Reserves Singapore said of its former chairman.

Dr Kwa, 86, who died on Sunday after a stroke, believed strongly in training healthcare professionals, said the President in a condolence letter to Dr Kwa's wife Lucy.

Dr Tan, who was Education Minister from 1985 to 1991, recalled working with Dr Kwa to improve the medical and healthcare schools in universities and polytechnics. "Soon Bee was synonymous with the development of healthcare in the early days of Singapore's growth as a nation."

The healthcare pioneer started as a medical officer in 1956 and rose through the ranks, retiring as the Health Ministry's permanent secretary and director of medical services in 1996. Generations of healthcare professionals remember him as a mentor, said Dr Tan.

One such person is Alexandra Health System's group chief executive officer Liak Teng Lit, who was a pharmacist when he met Dr Kwa in the 1970s. Dr Kwa, then the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) medical director, set very high standards but was extremely supportive of even the most junior staff, said Mr Liak. "He always reminded us hospital buildings would be used for 40 to 50 years. He told us that when we open a hospital, it must be at least 10 years ahead of its time. He certainly did that when he built SGH."

Dr Kwa is also remembered as a visionary who held the wildlife parks to the highest standards and spearheaded the zoo's rejuvenation in 2000. He was chairman of Jurong Bird Park from 1980, and oversaw the 2000 formation of Wildlife Reserves Singapore. Jurong Bird Park general manager Raja Segran said: "Dr Kwa made it a point to see the zoo or bird park in every country he visited... and would come back with observations and thoughts to further refine the bird park."

Dr Kwa is survived by his wife, two children and three grandchildren. Elder son Kwa Chong Teck, 59, a National Dental Centre senior adviser, said: "My father gave all the young people he came into contact with a certain code to live by.

"He gave us the same code - to try to do the right thing no matter how difficult, and that every person needs to be treated with kindness and compassion... Kindness and compassion characterised him, which is why he got into healthcare in the first place."

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