The Straits Times says

Healthcare moves closer to the public

The public healthcare scene will be reshaped in the coming year, when the six regional health systems that exist today will be streamlined into three integrated clusters. That outcome will be achieved by merging three of the current clusters with their larger counterparts, based on geographical location. The three new clusters will cover the entire island among themselves.

Sceptics might ask why the move is necessary since the six healthcare clusters were formed only in the late-2000s, when two bigger groups were split up. Could it be that the two-to-six-to-three transition is little more than an administrative exercise and, if so, what is its purpose?

The reality is that, as with previous changes, the latest move seeks to align the public provision of healthcare more closely with the evolving needs of the population. Thus, the move is eminently justified in terms of a better healthcare delivery system. A critical issue is Singapore's ageing population. Now, there are 450,000 people who are aged 65 years or older, but their numbers will double by 2030, just over a decade down the demographic road. Institutional arrangements must be put in place now so that the healthcare needs of these Singaporeans can be served more efficiently. Since senior Singaporeans make frequent hospital trips for relatively minor ailments, their interests will be upheld better by coordinating the work of hospitals and primary-care doctors.

That requires integrating the reach of polyclinics, general practitioners and family-medicine clinics more closely into the sphere of hospital services. Fewer healthcare clusters will make the integration practicable by providing healthcare as seamlessly as possible.

Following the latest merger, each cluster will look after more than a million Singaporean residents and partner with one of the three medical schools here. Of course, the change will affect more than senior Singaporeans. Everyone should gain from the effort to bring public healthcare services closer to home. Even in a small country, it is important for citizens to have easy and unbroken access to a range of public medical services that can reduce the physical and mental stress of illness. Every step that is taken in that direction makes Singapore a better home for its citizens, who will be confident that they will be cared for, especially when they are sick. Good and affordable healthcare remains one of the benchmarks of the quality of life in Singapore.

On the supply side, it is heartening that the latest merger will leave the vast majority of healthcare staff in their current roles. The emoluments and career prospects of those who care for the ill must not be forgotten in the quest for better service. At the end of the day, healthcare is what their dedication makes possible.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2017, with the headline 'Healthcare moves closer to the public'. Print Edition | Subscribe