Parliament debates removing century-old law

Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital runs a nursing home, a care centre for seniors and a traditional Chinese medicine clinic, as well as offers home care services for seniors.
Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital runs a nursing home, a care centre for seniors and a traditional Chinese medicine clinic, as well as offers home care services for seniors.ST FILE PHOTO

A proposal to remove a century-old law governing the running of a local community hospital went before Parliament for debate yesterday.

It ended with members of the House voting to send the proposal to a specially convened Select Committee for extra scrutiny - a rare step that last happened in 2004 with the Building Maintenance and Management Bill.

Often, proposed changes to an Act are debated and passed by the House at the same sitting.

The Ministry of Health told The Straits Times that the Kwong-Wai- Shiu Free Hospital (Transfer of Undertaking and Dissolution) Bill was sent to the Select Committee so that the affected hospital staff can have their say on the move.

At issue yesterday was whether to remove the Kwong-Wai-Shiu Hospital Ordinance so that the hospital can expand its services.

The law was enacted in 1910 when the hospital was set up.

But it has since become outdated, said Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min during the second reading to debate the Bill, which proposes removal of the law.

Its provisions are antiquated and impede Kwong Wai Shiu Hospital's development and growth as a modern healthcare provider, he said.

He cited four examples to show how the law has hindered the hospital's growth.

First, it restricts the hospital to providing healthcare services to poor people from the Kwong-Chau, Wai-Chau and Shiu-Heng prefectures in China's Canton province.

It also requires the hospital to keep its accounts according to the Chinese lunar calendar and submit them to the "Secretary of Chinese Affairs", a position that is now defunct, Dr Lam noted.

Third, it does not spell out corporate governance standards that charities have to meet, such as guidelines to avoid conflicts of interest.

And fourth, it imposes red tape on the hospital. For example, it has to get permission from the High Court and apply to the Attorney- General each time it wants to dispose of immovable assets.

"This unduly hampers Kwong Wai Shiu's ability to efficiently manage and control its assets and property to respond to the changing needs of Singapore," Dr Lam said.

Meanwhile, the hospital is modernising and expanding to meet the healthcare needs of Singapore's ageing population, he added. It runs a nursing home, a seniors' care centre and a traditional Chinese medicine clinic, as well as provides care services for seniors at their homes.

At the end of this year, it will run Singapore's largest nursing home, with more than 600 beds.

Dr Lam noted that the hospital has already gone beyond the restrictions of the old law. For instance, its services are open to the public, regardless of the race, religion and dialect of the patients. The move to repeal the law was initiated by the hospital management, he added, without saying when.

Without the law, the hospital will be run as a company.

It was incorporated and registered as a charity last year. The hospital will be governed by the Companies Act and supervised by the Ministry of Health as a charity.

"The hospital's operations will not be affected and patients are unlikely to experience any inconvenience or any adverse changes as a result of the transition," Dr Lam assured the House.

Three MPs spoke in support of the repeal. They were Mr Gan Thiam Poh (Ang Mo Kio GRC), Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC)and Nominated MP Thomas Chua.

The Bill is before the Select Committee headed by House Speaker Halimah Yacob. Among its members is Mr Low Thia Khiang, leader of the opposition Workers' Party.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 11, 2017, with the headline 'Parliament debates removing century-old law'. Print Edition | Subscribe