Public free clinics such a big draw, some turn up in luxury cars

The Public Free Clinic Society's branch in Clementi Avenue 5, 30 minutes before the clinic's opening at 9am.
The Public Free Clinic Society's branch in Clementi Avenue 5, 30 minutes before the clinic's opening at 9am. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - Clinics which offer free medical consultation can draw hundreds of patients every day, including some who turn up in luxury cars.

But the clinics say they will not turn away well-off patients.

There are more than 30 free clinics here, a check by The Straits Times has found. These clinics, many of which provide traditional Chinese medical treatment, offer free consultation, but may charge a small fee for medicine and treatments such as acupuncture.

Long lines would often form outside even before opening hours. Queues for the morning slot, for instance, can start as early as 6.30am, two hours before some clinics open their doors.

When The Straits Times visited the Public Free Clinic Society's branch in Clementi on Saturday (Nov 4), more than 20 patients were seen waiting in line 30 minutes before the clinic's opening at 9am.

The demand has seen some free clinic providers extending their services to more locations, as they serve the needs of Singapore's fast ageing population.

On Sunday (Nov 5), the Public Free Clinic Society officially opened its fifth free clinic in Bedok, which has been operating since April this year. Besides Clementi and Bedok, the society also operates clinics in Tampines, Jurong and Geylang.

Mr Seow Ser Fatt, Public Free Clinic Society's president, said demand for its services has grown over the years.

Together, the non-profit organisation's five clinics see over 650 patients daily, up from some 600 a year ago. More than 70 per cent of its patients are above 51 years old.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, who was at the opening ceremony of the Bedok branch, said with Singapore's ageing population, the number of people who suffer from geriatric illnesses and chronic diseases such as rheumatism is expected to rise.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans above the age of 60 will suffer from at least one chronic disease, he said in Mandarin.

"To better address the medical needs of the population, it is increasingly important to ensure a robust healthcare system is in place that addresses the medical needs of the elderly, and encourages them to take preventive measures so as to enable them to lead a long, healthy and active life."

Many of those who show up at free clinics tend to be middle aged and older, although foreign workers and even visitors from neighbouring countries do see the practitioners as well.

Free clinics are largely funded by donations, through well-wishers and fund-raising activities. These clinics also have donation boxes for patients who wish to contribute.

While most patients are from the lower and middle income groups, there are well-off patients as well. Even though free clinics do not turn away the rich, they hope that these individuals would help out with donations.

Mr Seow said his clinics would often see patients arriving in luxury cars.

"We don't turn them away just because they drive big car," he added. "They visit our free clinics because they prefer our physicians, and not because of the low cost."

He said many of them would donate after seeing the physicians.

One such patient is a 52-year-old who would only give his name as Mr Lim. "I will always donate when I come, so others who are less well-off can receive medical help," said the sales manager, who did not reveal the amount he gives.

"The flexibility (to donate any amount) allows us to give from the heart."