Over the past two years, the Ministry of Heath (MOH) received an average of 160 complaints of overcharging each year.
Of the complaints received last year, 23 were e-mails - the majority of which were against the private sector, said Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min in Parliament yesterday.
Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) had asked the ministry how many reports of excessive charging by private sector doctors it had received in the past five years. Dr Lam said MOH had data for only the last two years but not the past five years because of changes in the way data was collected and how bill-related feedback was organised.
Mr Vikram Nair (Sembawang GRC) and Nominated MP K. Thanaletchimi had also asked if MOH will consider expanding the roles of community pharmacists and nurse practitioners, who are highly trained nurses. Allowing them to prescribe medication and treat common ailments would make it cheaper and more convenient for patients to get treatment, they said.
"Currently, pharmacists are already allowed to prescribe certain drugs - for example, simple drugs like those for the treatment of the common cold," Dr Lam said. He added that many nurse practitioners in both polyclinics and hospitals also perform this expanded role.
PATIENT'S INTEREST FIRST
Doctors should and must prescribe appropriately, and it should be in the interests... of the patients and not for personal financial gains.
DR LAM PIN MIN, Minister of State for Health.
Dr Lam also addressed the issue of patients being prescribed non-standard drugs which are typically more expensive. "Doctors should and must prescribe appropriately, and it should be in the interests... of the patients and not for personal financial gains," he stressed. He added that those who need to be on non-standard drugs can apply to the Medication Assistance Fund if they cannot afford them.
Correction note: An earlier version of the story referred to the Medical Assistance Fund. This is incorrect. It should be the Medication Assistance Fund.