THE much-awaited 700-bed hospital in Jurong is pushing back its opening by six months because its construction cannot be completed on time.
Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, originally due to open in December, is now slated to open in the middle of next year, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong revealed last night.
JurongHealth chairman Lim Yong Wah and chief executive Foo Hee Jug have expressed "disappointment" at the delay.
It was hoped the hospital would ease the bed crunch, with some hospitals facing occupancy rates of over 90 per cent.
Main contractor GS Engineering and Construction, which has to pay a penalty of $100,000 for every day of delay, put the blame on a shortage of skilled construction manpower in Singapore and disruptions at the Thai factory making the facades.
Construction was to be completed by next month, giving the hospital three months to prepare for its opening in December.
But early this year, the hospital management realised things were not going smoothly and, about two weeks ago, made the painful decision to delay the opening.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said in a statement that he was disappointed at the delay.
The priority now, he said, is "to avoid further delays and ensure that overall capacity in the public health-care system is not adversely affected and patient care will not be compromised".
He has asked Associate Professor Benjamin Ong, director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), to work with all public hospitals "to ensure we have adequate capacity to meet the needs of our population".
Prof Ong said last Saturday that Singapore General Hospital and the National University Hospital have added about 150 beds this year.
Changi General Hospital will add 30 more when the new building it will share with Saint Andrew's Community Hospital opens at the end of the year.
Another 200 community hospital beds are being added this year.
They will add to the current total: almost 7,200 beds in public hospitals, more than 830 in community hospitals, and more than 10,650 in nursing homes.
Plans to close Alexandra Hospital for two to three weeks for refurbishment early next year - taking 330 beds out of the equation - will also be pushed back.
Ng Teng Fong General Hospital plans to open with 365 beds, and increase this to 550 in its first 12 months, with the rest to be added in the second year.
Prof Ong said successful measures to free up beds have been rolled out to all public hospitals. One is transitional care, where doctors, nurses and therapists go to patients' homes to provide medical and other support.
This has resulted in 1,400 patients going home 2.9 days earlier on average, freeing up about 4,000 bed-days.
Another scheme has seen patients who need intravenous antibiotics treated as day patients, rather than being admitted.
"Hot clinics" will also be rolled out to all hospitals. These involve emergency patients being given same- or next-day appointments at specialist clinics so they can be treated without being warded.
The MOH is also in talks with private hospitals to use their beds. West Point, Parkway East and Gleneagles are already helping the public sector. Next year, five nursing homes with a total of 800 beds will open to ease the squeeze. Work on another seven homes will start next year.