Hospital bed crunch: Better care network outside of hospitals needed

Patients waiting for beds in a large air-conditioned tent at Changi General Hospital (CGH) on Jan 7, 2014. The solution to the ongoing hospital bed crunch cannot just lie in adding new beds, says Mr Foo Hee Jug, the head of the upcoming Ng
Patients waiting for beds in a large air-conditioned tent at Changi General Hospital (CGH) on Jan 7, 2014. The solution to the ongoing hospital bed crunch cannot just lie in adding new beds, says Mr Foo Hee Jug, the head of the upcoming Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

The solution to the ongoing hospital bed crunch cannot just lie in adding new beds.

Instead, a network of patient care outside of a hospital is necessary, said the head of the upcoming Ng Teng Fong General Hospital on Saturday.

"The centre of gravity (in patient care) cannot be in an acute hospital setting," said Mr Foo Hee Jug, who is now chief executive at Jurong Health Services. "We must do and plan activities right now to get patients comfortable with community care."

Pointing to programmes like Tan Tock Seng Hospital's 'virtual hospital' where health managers are on hand 24/7 to advise elderly patients by phone or through home visits, Mr Foo said that improving transitional and community care by partnering doctors and primary care providers can help alleviate shortages.

Jurong Health Services is moving in this direction by working with polyclinics to set-up family medicine clinics and collaborating with private general practitioners so that residents can seek care for different ailments outside of a hospital setting.

"Patients who would otherwise have stayed in an acute hospital can (then) actually go home, knowing that at the right time, we will be able to... bring our doctors and nurses in," he said.

Mr Foo was speaking at a community event at Jem in Jurong on Saturday, where more than 2,000 people signed a cement slab that will be hoisted to the top of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital the following Monday, to commemorate the completion of the in-patient tower.

Mr Foo said that the upcoming hospital is on track to open its first phase by the end of December, with structural construction of the hospital to be completed at the end of this month.

About 500 beds will become available there at the end of this year, with another 200 available in its community hospital section.

An additional 400 beds will be available at the Jurong Community Hospital, which will be adjoined to the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital.

The community hospital is also on track to open in the third quarter of 2015, said Mr Foo.

The two hospitals will serve the 900,000 residents in the western part of Singapore, and help alleviate the bed crunch faced by National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital.

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