More polyclinics needed to serve growing population

I am impressed by the increase in the number of patients that general practitioners have seen from 2006 to 2013 (GPs working fewer hours, but seeing more patients: Poll; July 11).

The 18 polyclinics have also recorded gains in productivity, but these improvements have become all but imperceptible due to the sheer number of patients that our public healthcare system receives every day.

A report by the Ministry of Health in March revealed that the median waiting time for medical consultation at polyclinics ranged from five minutes to 28 minutes, with a median waiting time of 18 minutes, a 30 per cent increase from last year (A longer wait now to see polyclinic doctor; June 27).

An additional one minute to eight minutes were spent at the registration counter.

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These figures excluded the time spent queueing at the dispensary for prescribed medication, or arranging for subsequent appointments with doctors.

About 5 per cent of walk-in patients must wait 70 minutes to 100 minutes to see a doctor, underscoring the severity of polyclinic overcrowding during peak periods.

Compounding this is a conspicuous shortage of medical professionals.

In Singapore, there were 2.3 doctors for every 1,000 inhabitants last year, according to the Ministry of Health's website.

This is significantly lower than in other comparably developed nations. Germany, for instance, had 4.1 doctors per 1,000 people in 2014, according to the World Health Organisation.

The new Pioneer polyclinic in Jurong may help, but to improve waiting times and, ultimately, expedite access to affordable healthcare, the clear solution is to open more polyclinics.

The most densely populated neighbourhoods surely have sufficient patient traffic to warrant a second facility or annex within their districts. Other districts, such as Serangoon and Jurong West, currently appear underserved.

Singapore's existing medical schools must grow accordingly to provide the requisite manpower. New training institutions should also be established, focusing on specialisations that would cater to an ageing population, such as eldercare, oncology, cardiology and palliative care.

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 12, 2017, with the headline 'More polyclinics needed to serve growing population'. Print Edition | Subscribe