Citizens' healthcare takes priority over medical tourism

Hospital staff help patients settle into the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital afterbeing transferred from Alexandra Hospital.
Hospital staff help patients settle into the new Ng Teng Fong General Hospital afterbeing transferred from Alexandra Hospital.PHOTO: ST FILE

Dr Jeremy Lim's appeal to revive medical tourism should not be considered in government hospitals, as the present healthcare infrastructure already has trouble meeting demand ("Why we must have foreign patients"; last Wednesday).

As it stands, our government hospitals, community hospitals and national specialist centres are struggling to cope with increasing demand for specialist care and in-patient care, with occupancy rates almost at full capacity.

Given the persistent bed crunch in hospitals, how could government hospitals accept more foreign patients? With the impending commencement of MediShield Life, we would likely see a rise in citizens switching from private hospitals to government hospitals, and increased demand for Class B1 and Class A beds in government hospitals.

All government and community hospitals receive annual financial grants from the Ministry of Health to offset part of their operating costs. Thus, all government hospitals must stay committed to giving priority to citizens seeking in-patient care, and not pursue profits from medical tourism.

Notwithstanding this, foreign patients are welcome to seek care in private hospitals. To develop and train the next generation of specialists, allow doctors who wish to specialise to practise in private and government hospitals concurrently.

Healthcare is a critical and essential government service and must not be viewed as a business enterprise.The healthcare needs of citizens take priority over earning more from medical tourism.

P'ng Siok Lee (Ms)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 27, 2015, with the headline 'Citizens' healthcare takes priority over medical tourism'. Print Edition | Subscribe