Singapore Budget 2015: Community approach needed to tackle mental health: Khor

SINGAPORE- In tackling mental health, the Government and care providers will hone in on a community approach, said Senior Minister of State for Health and Manpower Amy Khor.

"Sometimes, it does take a village to enable patients to recover and recover well in the community," said Dr Khor.

She was addressing concerns of several Members of Parliament including Associate Professor Fatimah Lateef (Marine Parade GRC) regarding mental health issues that may come with an ageing society.

The Health Ministry plans to strengthen community support by building "local community support networks" among grassroots leaders and volunteers, social work agencies, the police and town councils. Training will be available to enable them to respond to residents in their neighbourhood who might have mental health issues, Dr Khor said.

At Kembangan Chai Chee, for instance, a network of volunteers comprising 120 grassroots leaders, volunteers and others have been given basic mental health and eldercare education and they are equipped to identify residents at risk of mental health issues. The Health Ministry aims to set up similar local community support networks and engage a total of 50 constituencies.

General practitioners are also part of the equation. The Ministry also aims to train and partner 120 general practitioners to attend to mental health patients and expand the Insitute of Mental Health's aftercare services, while enlisting more community-based voluntary welfare organisations to provide support. Together with constituency-level community support, community-based aftercare teams aim to serve around 5,000 clients by 2017.

Capacity for dementia care will also be beefed up. According to a recent study by IMH, the prevalence of the disease among seniors 60 years and above is 10 percent. The number of dementia day care places will be scaled up from the current 650 to 3,000 by 2020. It will also increase the number of dementia nursing home beds from the current 575 to 1,970. More respite care and eldersitters to look after dementia elderly will also be available for caregivers.

Members of Parliament Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Mr Patrick Tay (Nee Soon GRC) asked about healthcare manpower given the expanded needs to care for an ageing population.

Dr Khor said that the Health Ministry will work to enhance the attractiveness of healthcare careers. She raised the examples of patient service associates at Tan Tock Seng Hospitals. With enhancements in technology, they have spent less time on administration and taken up more meaningful work, helping to draw blood from patients, for instance.

The healthcare professional workforce has been expanded by 9,000 between 2011 to 2014 and the Health Ministry is looking for more mid-career entrants, especially women re-entering the workforce and retired nurses.