Gan Kim Yong, Health

Timely discharge, more beds added to deal with hospital bed crunch: Health Minister

Patients waiting for beds in a large air-conditioned tent at Changi General Hospital (CGH), on Jan 7, 2014. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday set out the measures being taken to address the hospital bed crunch in the short and medium term. -- ST
Patients waiting for beds in a large air-conditioned tent at Changi General Hospital (CGH), on Jan 7, 2014. Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday set out the measures being taken to address the hospital bed crunch in the short and medium term. -- ST FILE PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Monday set out the measures being taken to address the hospital bed crunch in the short and medium term.

They include ensuring timely discharge of patients, adding more than 300 beds over the past six months and working with private hospitals to supply another 50.

Over the medium term, 1,200 beds, including in community hospitals and nursing homes, will be added by this year, and another 10,000 by 2020, as at least six new hospitals are scheduled to open by then.

Mr Gan was responding to Dr Lam Pin Min (Sengkang West), who had asked for an update on the bed crunch situation that made the headlines earlier this month, as public hospitals took extraordinary measures such as housing patients in a large air-conditioned tent and setting up beds along ward corridors.

The minister said a combination of factors led to the high bed occupancy rate of 87.2 per cent earlier this year, up from 85.8 per cent in the same period last year.

These include more patients being old and frail, with those aged 65 and above being admitted to public hospitals rising from 28.6 per cent in 2006 to 33.4 per cent last year. They are staying longer, from 7.8 days in 2010 to 8.2 days last year.

Shrinking family sizes and weaker family support have also led to a situation where family members are not ready to take patients home, he said.

For now, each hospital is focused on ensuring timely discharge of patients to community hospitals, nursing homes as well as their homes. Transitional care teams of doctors, nurses and allied health profssionals support the patients initially after discharge, while about 300 patients have tapped on interim care services to give their families more time to arrange for longer-term care.

More cooperation is being explored with private hospitals, Mr Gan said, such as building up their emergency departments so that people sent there would "be treated as if they are in the public hospitals and...treated by the doctors in the private hospital".

Also in the pipeline are more eldercare facilities, including 12 new and replacement nursing homes by 2016, Mr Gan said.

But he stressed that besides adding capacity, Singapore needs to transform its model of care.

He said: "A hospital-centric system is not the best in meeting the care needs of an ageing population. We need to help our ageing population stay healthy and manage their chronic conditions better so that they do not need to be hospitalised frequently. We also need to provide good support in the community to allow them to recuperate well after a hospitalisation episode."

Dr Lam later asked if the opening of the Sengkang hospital could be brought forward. Mr Gan said new hospitals are a complex undertaking, and time is needed to build up a team to run them.

He said: "We will try to build the Sengkang hospital as fast as practically possible, but I would not want to accelerate it beyond a point where it actually puts a risk to the project as well as a risk to the patients that we will be looking after at that point."

chinlian@sph.com.sg