The template for the future of Singapore's healthcare system was on display yesterday as the Yishun Community Hospital was officially opened to take the load off the neighbouring Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).
Community hospitals will play a bigger role in caring for patients in the future and are part of the transformation under the Healthcare 2020 Masterplan to "shift the centre of gravity from acute hospitals to the community", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
As he officially opened YCH, Mr Gan said: "Over time, we see community hospitals expanding their roles to provide more short-term inpatient care for geriatric, dementia and palliative patients."
YCH, which is linked to KTPH, has cared for more than 1,400 patients since it became operational in December last year.
YCH, which has opened 238 of its 428 beds so far, is currently 60 per cent full, while the adjacent KTPH faces a bed crunch, with occupancy hovering at around 90 per cent.
It is much cheaper to run a community hospital, where the nurse-to-patient ratio is one to 16, which means one nurse can look after four times the number of patients compared with a general hospital. This is largely because, while its patients still need care, their conditions are stable.
Community hospitals are also cheaper to build, at roughly half the cost of an acute hospital.
That is why all future acute hospitals in the public sector will have a community hospital next door to allow patients to "transit smoothly from the acute hospital to the community hospital and eventually back home".
Aside from KTPH, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Changi General Hospital, and Ng Teng Fong General Hospital all have community hospitals next door. Outram Community Hospital, expected to open in 2020, is being built on the Singapore General Hospital campus.
Speaking to The Straits Times after the event, the minister said: "With an ageing population, community hospitals will play an increasingly important role in our healthcare system.
"Older patients tend to take longer to recover and are more likely to require a longer period of rehabilitation to return home."
The environment at a community hospital is more appropriate for extended rehabilitation and recuperation than that at acute hospitals, he added, "to help patients regain functionality and confidence so that they can return home safely".
Mr Gan said two in five hip fracture patients can benefit from a stay in a community hospital, as can patients with pneumonia or who need complex wound management.
He said: "The community hospital's focus is to help patients improve their functions and regain confidence such that they will be able to look after themselves when they eventually return home."
He praised the hospital for innovations such as its "modern tropical kampung" design, which provides a natural healing environment.
Mr Gan said community hospitals can, in the future, expand their role "to support seniors in the community in key areas such as dementia care and palliative care".
He also spoke of the addition of facilities in the north. Three wellness and care centres were launched in Yishun earlier this year that provide a whole range of aged care and active ageing services.
Next year, there will be a new medical centre in Admiralty and a new nursing home in Woodlands Crescent, and a bigger Yishun Polyclinic will be ready by 2018.
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