Forum: Capacity of Singapore's ICU facilities has to be addressed

I refer to the article, "Close watch being kept on hospitals' ICU capacity" (July 17).

According to the multi-ministry task force tackling the pandemic, the recent tightening of safe management measures is to ensure that Singapore's intensive care unit (ICU) capacity is not overwhelmed.

The majority of patients requiring hospitalisation, supplemental oxygen and/or ICU support are partially vaccinated or unvaccinated senior citizens.

The task force's stance appears to be governed by concerns about overwhelming the current ICU capacity should many of the recently infected become seriously ill.

In May last year, then Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said that Singapore was able to provide up to about 900 ICU beds (S'pore's healthcare capacity can be expanded for Covid-19 needs: Gan, May 5, 2020).

This capacity appears to have been increased, as Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on July 16 that 1,000 ICU beds have been set aside for Covid-19 patients.

If Singapore is truly to begin "living with Covid-19", then it seems that focusing on vaccination coverage and improved testing and tracing are insufficient at present.

It appears that the true rate-limiting obstacle to a calibrated reopening has yet to be addressed: the capacity of Singapore's ICU facilities.

From May last year to July this year, Singapore has managed to increase its ICU bed capacity by 100 places.

Is this something that will be continued or even accelerated over the coming months?

Expanding ICU capacity takes time. Not only do physical premises need to be constructed and specialist equipment procured, but years of specialised training are also required for future ICU staff.

If our current ICU facilities can be overwhelmed in five weeks with cases from the local resident population alone, then what does the future hold when widespread tourism resumes with any potential accompanying increase in infections from overseas visitors?

Also, many regional visitors come to Singapore for medical reasons and this may extend to Covid-19 treatment in the future.

Jaclyn Toh Ai Lin (Dr)

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