Subsidising TCM could be a boost for healthcare

I agree with Mr Francis Cheng that the Government recognises traditional Chinese medicine's (TCM) contributions towards the well-being of Singaporeans, especially the elderly ("Support TCM, but not with blanket subsidies"; last Friday).

TCM can provide treatments such as acupuncture, which even Western medical practitioners have lauded for its therapeutic effect, but it is not readily available at many mainstream clinics.

Mr Cheng wrote that currently, seniors and the needy can approach charitable TCM organisations that are already providing affordable treatments.

However, these TCM clinics are providing affordable services because the treatment costs are partially offset by donations from the public, and not necessarily due to lower operating costs compared with regular clinics.

At times, cost becomes a realistic constraint, preventing the provision of more holistic treatments to patients.

Mr Cheng also mentioned that subsidies on complementary medicine will come at the expense of taxpayers, and that the Government should maintain the status quo of subsidising only mainstream medicine.

It is improper to deny subsidies simply because TCM is only a complementary treatment and that it is a cost to taxpayers.

Rather, the question is whether we are spending on services that provide genuine benefits to the public?

I suggest that the Government conduct a pilot project to extend subsidies to larger TCM clinics in Singapore and evaluate the possibility of extending such subsidies to other TCM clinics, based on the findings.

This might be a small step towards enhancing healthcare here as well as lowering its cost through reduced reliance on medical attention to sustain basic quality of life, and through shorter waiting times and a reduced doctor-to-patient ratio at mainstream clinics and hospitals.

Tan Boon Han

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2015, with the headline 'Subsidising TCM could be a boost for healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe