Making healthcare accessible

Singapore will seek to improve healthcare accessibility for patients, and promote innovation and collaboration in the medical technology sector, said Minister for Trade and Industry (Industry) S. Iswaran yesterday.

To boost healthcare accessibility, he said the healthcare professional workforce has to grow by 50 per cent, or about 20,000, by 2020.

Singapore will also add at least 1,700 acute beds and double the number of community hospital beds to 3,000 by 2020, he added.

Mr Iswaran, who was speaking at the Asia-Pacific MedTech Forum 2015 gala dinner, said Singapore will also invest in primary-care infrastructure such as polyclinics and community health centres.

Digital technologies that support the healthcare sector will be another area of investment.

He said: "We are studying the scope and opportunities for IT and other digital tools to enable the delivery of better and seamless care across the care continuum, as well as targeted interventions for improved healthcare outcomes for our citizens."

He noted how some companies in the sector were innovating or collaborating.

A company called Becton Dickinson is developing a novel instrument designed to address maternal and newborn deaths associated with obstructed labour, he said.

"Living labs" have also been created for companies to partner local healthcare providers so they can co-innovate and pilot new products and solutions, he noted.

Growth in the medical technology sector in Singapore has been catalysed by more companies seeking to expand operations in the Asia-Pacific, Mr Iswaran said.

The output of the medical technology manufacturing sector has more than tripled from $1.5 billion to $5.5 billion since 2000. Over the same period, Singapore's manufacturing workforce for this sector also more than doubled from 4,000 to 10,000 employees. Today, there are about 25 research and development centres and close to 50 regional headquarters of leading medical technology firms in Singapore, Mr Iswaran noted.

Demand for healthcare solutions will rise as Asia "will age significantly over the next few decades". The percentage of Asia's population aged 60 and above is set to double from 12 per cent to 25 per cent by 2050, Mr Iswaran said.

The two-day forum for medical technology professionals is hosted by the Asia-Pacific Medical Technology Association.

The conference, which ends today, will address issues driving the industry and explore how innovation and collaboration can solve unmet healthcare needs in the Asia-Pacific region.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2015, with the headline 'Making healthcare accessible'. Print Edition | Subscribe