We refer to Ms Salma Khalik's commentary (More clarity needed on polyclinic referrals and accessing subsidised care, Jan 16) and Forum letters on the issues raised in the commentary.
All hospitals are required by law to provide financial counselling to all patients who are admitted for inpatient treatment or day surgery.
At the public hospitals, guidelines are in place on how financial counselling should be performed.
Subsidised patients referred from a subsidised provider are eligible for subsidised care.
These include patients referred by polyclinics, as well as Community Health Assist Scheme (Chas), Pioneer Generation and Merdeka Generation patients referred by Chas general practitioner clinics.
Subsidised patients are managed by a team of doctors. Should a patient choose to be treated by a specific doctor, or opt for air-conditioned wards, they will be considered a private patient, including for follow-up visits for the same condition.
This is explained during financial counselling, where patients are provided with a bill estimate and shown how much of the bill will be covered by subsidies and MediShield Life, and the amount that can be paid through Medisave.
Should a patient already under private care for a particular condition subsequently request to switch to subsidised treatment, the public healthcare institutions (PHIs) will assess the request on a case-by-case basis, taking into consideration the patient's financial circumstances.
In Madam Song Yuen Han's case, the National University Hospital (NUH) had treated her as a private patient for a first condition, as she had requested to be treated by a specific doctor.
She subsequently had a second unrelated condition for which she had a polyclinic referral.
As the second referral was to a specialist in the same department, NUH had overlooked the polyclinic referral and treated her as a private patient in error.
This was an oversight which NUH subsequently rectified.
The Ministry of Health will continue to work with the public hospitals to review how we can further improve the financial counselling process.
Patients who face financial difficulties with their bills can approach the medical social workers at the PHIs for assistance.
Chan Beng Seng
Group Director, Subvention
Ministry of Health