A severe bed crunch at Singapore's public hospitals has forced several of them into taking some extraordinary measures.
Changi General Hospital (CGH), which has 800 beds, started housing patients waiting for beds in a large air-conditioned tent this week.
The 1,200-bed Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), meanwhile, has been forced to set up 49 beds along the corridors of its wards to cope with the demand.
Together with Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), they have also resorted to sending patients to Alexandra Hospital, one of the few public hospitals here with spare beds.
Having taken in more than 900 patients from other hospitals between last September and December, it continues to admit around 11 such patients each day.
Dr Lee Chien Earn, CGH's chief executive officer, told The Straits Times: "Our bed occupancy rate has crossed 100 per cent for certain periods over the past month and some patients have waited more than 24 hours for an inpatient bed."
This is despite CGH already renting a ward from Parkway East Hospital and the next-door St Andrew's Community Hospital.
Mr Liak Teng Lit, head of Alexandra Health which runs KTPH, said: "Every day, we have to make decisions regarding our 500 patients. Those who are not so sick are discharged to make way for the 50 to 60 patients waiting for a bed."
He described the current bed crunch as "abnormal", since public hospitals usually experience a dip in patients during this period. But numbers went up instead.
Dr Chia Shi-Lu, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, suggested that the crunch might be due to the holiday season rather than a spike in illnesses.
Mr Liak said this was possible. He explained how 20 KTPH patients at any one time refuse to be discharged. Some say their families are on holiday, and there is no one at home to take care of them.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said last night that he was aware of the problem - hence, the push to add 1,900 more acute hospital beds and 2,600 community hospital beds by 2020.
He added: "The hospitals have also implemented various measures to alleviate the bed crunch.
"CGH has set up a nine-bed Short Stay Unit and expanded its observation ward from 12 to 20 beds at the Emergency Department and also set up an Admission Transit Area for patients who are waiting for a bed in the ward."
Madam Fatimah Beevi, 60, has experienced the crunch at both KTPH and CGH over the past fortnight.
She spent Christmas night on a trolley bed in the packed KTPH's emergency department, where she said the beds were so close she could touch the next patient by stretching out her arm. She was discharged after a day.
When her problems persisted, she went to CGH on Sunday. She was placed in the Admission Transit Area for 48 hours while waiting for a B2 bed.
"There was no shower room and I couldn't bathe for two days," said Madam Fatimah, who was discharged yesterday evening after her condition stabilised.