Laws governing healthcare services to be reviewed

People waiting at Bedok Polyclinic. Starting next month, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be talking to industry players to find out how laws governing the sector need to change.
People waiting at Bedok Polyclinic. Starting next month, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be talking to industry players to find out how laws governing the sector need to change. PHOTO: ST FILE

Starting next month, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will be talking to industry players to find out how laws governing the sector need to change.

A one-size-fits-all approach under the existing Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act is no longer suitable, said Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min yesterday.

The Act, which governs all private and public healthcare services here, was first enacted in 1980. It has not been amended in 17 years.

"Since then, much has changed in Singapore's healthcare landscape," said Dr Lam at the Centre of Regulatory Excellence's Scientific Conference yesterday.

"MOH is therefore reviewing the Act to keep pace with the rapid advances in medicine and health technology, new and changing modalities of services, and profile and needs of our population."

For instance, said Dr Lam, many healthcare services can now be delivered online, as in the case of telemedicine.

However, the existing laws work on the assumption that all services are provided from brick-and-mortar locations.

The Act also does not properly distinguish between different types of healthcare institutions.

"This has resulted in the force-fitting of some institutions to fit our regulations," Dr Lam said.

"For example, community hospitals have historically been subjected to the same requirements as acute hospitals."

Instead, he said, the Act should have different tiers of requirements according to the type and nature of services provided by each organisation.

Healthcare adviser Jean-Luc Butel, who is president of consultancy K8 Global, said having modern technology also means that healthcare is a complex beast nowadays.

"Today, technology - whether it is pharmaceutical or medical - is moving very, very rapidly," he said.

"And so you see this challenge anywhere in the world - where the regulators have to stay updated on these rapid developments and then write regulations that match what technology is doing today."

In its focus-group discussions next month, the Health Ministry will speak with both large and small healthcare players. These include clinics, hospitals, laboratories and nursing homes. It will later engage patient groups and the public.

Said Dr Lam: "MOH will also take the opportunity to strengthen governance systems and improve regulatory clarity.

"By doing so, providers will be more aware as to their responsibilities, and hence be more accountable to patients."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 26, 2016, with the headline 'Laws governing healthcare services to be reviewed'. Print Edition | Subscribe