Long wait at A&E should not be a norm

My aunt was recently admitted to the accident and emergency (A&E) department of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). When we arrived, we were informed that the wait for a consultation would be four to five hours. True to that, after 4 ½ hours, my aunt finally saw the doctor and was sent for a scan.

During the wait, I could tell that there was an obvious lack of medical staff - only four consultation rooms, and two to four doctors.

After my aunt completed her X-ray, it was already past midnight.

The registration counter staff could tell us only that her admission was in the queue.

When I requested for a temporary bed so that she could rest, I was told to check with the nurses or doctors. I followed the instruction but I could tell the nurses and doctors were too tired to attend to us.

We had to wait for another three hours before my aunt was warded. In total, it was an excruciating 7½-hour wait.

Friends I have spoken to said this long wait is normal. If I want to be seen any faster, I should go to a private hospital.

I shudder to think that we have come to accept this as the status quo. Subsidised patients or not, we have the right to expect quality service from our public institutions.

I do not know what transpired during the three hours after my aunt's X-ray but the question is this: Patients are not discharged at midnight, so why is the hospital's system unable to detect the bed capacity and give an estimated waiting time?

Interestingly, when my aunt arrived at the ward, there were two empty beds. Next door, there were six empty ones.

We have often read that there is a shortage of hospital beds and medical staff. Is it really all that or is productivity also an issue?

SGH is a centrally located facility. I do not foresee the patient numbers dropping drastically even as the Government builds more hospitals in the outskirts.

In the meantime, can we find ways to improve the situation or at least make the A&E wait more palatable? For example:

- Divert non-emergency cases at the very first point (triage section) to a nearby clinic.

- Demolish some carpark spaces to build a new wing or consider building extensions upwards to house more temporary beds or resting areas for A&E patients.

- Attach a timer to wheelchairs so that the elderly who visit the A&E alone are attended to quickly. Once the preset waiting time passes, the medical staff will be alerted to them.

- If a bed is not immediately available, the medical staff should advise the patient on the next nearest hospital he can check into. Medical information should be sent electronically to the other hospital for it to act upon.

The waiting time at A&Es has been a bugbear for years and it appears the review should start with SGH.

Carole Chow Shuk Yeng (Ms)