$5 health screening for 1.8 million Singaporeans: Letters out from August

The outpatient pharmacy at the Singapore General Hospital.
The outpatient pharmacy at the Singapore General Hospital.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

1.8m Singaporeans can be screened for up to five conditions under enhanced programme

Letters will start going out in August to the 1.8 million Singaporeans who are entitled to a health screening for $5 or less, under the Enhanced Screen for Life programme that starts in September.

With the invitation letter, they can call any of the more than 1,000 general practice clinics on the Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas) to fix a date to screen for diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, cervical and colorectal cancers.

All Singaporeans aged 40 years and older are eligible. The $5 covers tests and, should any prove positive, a consultation with a doctor. The 400,000 Pioneers get the screening for free, while those with the Chas card pay just $2. Without the subsidy, it costs about $100.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) hopes that by making it both cheap and convenient, more people would find out if they are suffering from chronic medical problems or the two cancers.

Mr Zee Yoong Kang, Health Promotion Board's (HPB's) chief executive officer, said: "It is good practice for everyone, even if you feel healthy, to go for regular health screenings so that you can detect any health conditions early, and manage the condition well."

 
 

Today, many people here who suffer from chronic ailments are not aware of it, so they do not take steps to keep them under control, leading to major health problems.

The MOH thinks about a third of diabetics are not aware they have this disease that, uncontrolled, could lead to kidney failure, blindness and amputations.

Similarly, many people who have high cholesterol and blood pressure levels also do not know of them, since there are no symptoms in the early stages. But uncontrolled over time, they raise the risk of getting heart problems and stroke. Colorectal cancer is the most common cancer for men, and second in the list behind breast cancer for women.

Letters will go out to the more elderly first because they are more likely to suffer from chronic medical conditions. An HPB spokesman said: "Screening them early enables these Singaporeans to seek treatment and manage their conditions early."

However, all Singaporeans aged 40 years and older should get their invitation by the end of this year. There is no time limit for them to get screened at the subsidised rate.

The HPB spokesman added: "If the screening results are normal, HPB will send invitations when the next recommended screen is due, usually after three years."

An MOH spokesman said not all 1.8 million people would need to do all the tests, as some might have been diagnosed and are receiving treatment for some of the conditions. Also, the test for colorectal cancer is only for people aged 50 years and older, and the pap smear for cervical cancer is only for women.

Professor Chia Kee Seng said it is difficult to predict the take-up rate.

"There are many reasons why someone who is eligible does not go for screening. Cost is just one of them," he said.

"Success is not the number of people who have gone for screening, but rather, the number who have abnormal results and are subsequently under proper management and follow-up."

Chas card holder L. K. Lye, 52, said the low rate is tempting, but she does not think she needs to go for screening as she feels well. The office cleaner added that she might do it if she needs to see her doctor.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 16, 2017, with the headline '$5 health screening: Letters out from August'. Print Edition | Subscribe