WhyItMatters

Ensuring right level of care

There really is no need to use an axe to kill an ant, but that was essentially what was happening in healthcare when the very sick, the not so sick, and the patients well on the way to recovery were all looked after in general hospitals.

The over-dependence on acute hospital care has resulted in a shortage of beds and higher healthcare costs. That's because it costs over $1 million per bed to build an acute or general hospital, which also requires many more trained staff to provide the round-the-clock care that the very sick need.

A community hospital, on the other hand, costs half that to build, and needs fewer employees, since patients there are usually undergoing rehabilitation and are well on the road to recovery.

But for a long time, community hospitals were under voluntary welfare organisations' purview, such as Ren Ci near Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

A few years ago, there were just not enough community hospital beds to take on all recovering patients. The Ministry of Health saw the important role they played, and moved in.

Last year, both the Jurong Community Hospital that adjoins the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and the Yishun Community Hospital next to the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital opened their doors, adding hundreds of beds to the public sector.

In the pipeline are several more: the Outram Community Hospital near Singapore General Hospital and one in Sengkang being built together with a new acute hospital there. In fact, all future public acute hospitals will be built with a community hospital nearby, to give patients a smooth transition, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong this week.

Community hospitals are now, rightly, a key piece in the healthcare jigsaw. This saves costs, gives patients time to recover without being "chased" out of an acute hospital to make way for more urgent cases, and makes the best use of the limited skilled manpower in healthcare.

facebook.com/ST.Salma

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 01, 2016, with the headline 'Ensuring right level of care'. Print Edition | Subscribe