Need to rethink care of elderly as population ages rapidly: Gan Kim Yong

An elderly man packing cardboard boxes onto the back of his bicycle at the foot of an overhead bridge along Braddell Road.
An elderly man packing cardboard boxes onto the back of his bicycle at the foot of an overhead bridge along Braddell Road. PHOTO: ST FILE

As Singapore's population ages rapidly and more of its citizens suffer chronic ailments, it will have to rethink the way it cares for the elderly, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

The first step will have to come from Singaporeans themselves, who will have to take personal responsibility for their health, and not just when they are sick.

Beyond that, with many more people in the above-65 age group - there will be 610,000 in 2020 compared with 460,000 last year - there will be a huge demand for more healthcare workers.

Speaking at the National Seminar on Productivity in Healthcare at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Mr Gan said Singapore will need to make "deep and fundamental changes" to the way care is delivered to seniors.

Its focus will shift from hospitals to the community - including polyclinics, nursing homes and daycare facilities - to let the elderly be cared for in familiar neighbourhoods and at home.

 
 
 
 

Healthcare workers will need the right skills. Already, more doctors are being trained in family, geriatric and internal medicine. For instance, while 387 trained in family medicine from 2012 to last year, the number will grow to 504 over the next four years.

Singapore will also need help from technology. Pre-packed medicine is now used at 35 nursing homes. Another 10 automatically record patients' vital signs, freeing up nurses to focus on patient care.

Today's more educated Singaporeans are also being offered more self-service formats such as self-registration and payment kiosks, while locker boxes for medication collection are being rolled out across healthcare institutions.

Many more workers are still needed, which is why locals across all ages and experience levels are being invited to join the sector.

Said Mr Gan: "Whether young or old, fresh school leavers, mid-career Singaporeans, non-practising healthcare professionals, we will help you with training and development to take on meaningful and fulfilling careers in this sector."

Schemes include a slew of scholarships and training programmes to equip people from outside the health industry with the skills needed.

One scheme has already seen seven people in senior management, six of whom had been retrenched, retrained to work as managers and operations directors of community hospitals, nursing homes and daycare centres.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 21, 2016, with the headline 'Need to rethink care of elderly as population ages rapidly, says Gan'. Print Edition | Subscribe