SINGAPORE - More support will be given to caregivers of people with mental health conditions, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor during her ministry's debate on the budget on Thursday (March 5).
Dr Khor said: "We must also not forget that the well-being of persons with mental health conditions often rests on the caregivers, and they are at risk of burnout."
To address this, a structured system of support for caregivers of people with mental health conditions will be piloted.
Under this system, said Dr Khor, hospitals and community partners will provide caregivers with information such as disease progression and expected care needs upon first diagnosis of their loved ones.
They will also link up caregivers with the necessary health, financial and social support services.
"With this, we hope that caregivers will know upfront that they are not alone, that there is an entire network of support behind them," said Dr Khor.
She also responded to concerns from Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) Anthea Ong that information about a patient's mental health condition could be shared with others who should not have access to it.
Ms Ong had shared the cases of three respondents to a public consultation she and her team had carried out.
One had claimed that a member of the public service had information about their mental health condition accessed through the public healthcare system and shared it as "office gossip", while another said her school counsellor had "threatened" to tell her parents about her same-sex relationship.
The third had said that she was not allowed to donate blood due to her mental health history.
In response, Dr Khor said: "Physicians are bound by duty and ethics to protect patient confidentiality, and to ensure data sharing and use for patient care purposes only."
She added that healthcare institutions are required by licensing conditions to safeguard confidentiality of medical records, and public healthcare institutions have implemented safeguards to ensure access by authorised users on a need-to-know basis.
"Severe disciplinary and enforcement actions are taken against users who wilfully breach patient confidentiality," she said.
She also addressed Ms Ong's question on the disparity between claim and withdrawal limits under MediShield and Medisave for physical and mental health conditions.
Dr Khor said that as the bill sizes of inpatient psychiatric treatments are comparatively lower than other inpatient treatments, the MediShield Life and Medisave limits for such bills are also correspondingly lower to cater to different treatment types.
She added that fewer than one in 10 subsidised patients exceeded the Medisave yearly withdrawal limit for inpatient psychiatric stays, while fewer than three in 10 subsidised bills exceeded the Medisave daily withdrawal limit.
Dr Khor also addressed queries by NMP Yip Pin Xiu on the availability of mental healthcare services for people with disabilities.
Noting that mental health services at polyclinics and general practitioners are available to all Singaporeans, "irrespective of their specific risk factors such as disabilities or gender identity", Dr Khor said that sign language translators are able to provide counsellors with the necessary support to help patients with hearing loss and mental health conditions.
The Singapore Association for the Deaf also provides counselling services, she said.
Dr Khor added that there will be a whole-of-government review of Singapore's mental health strategy in the coming months to identify gaps and strengthen existing inter-agency efforts.
She said: "Like a migraine or backache, we should seek help for mental health issues early, so as to avoid problems that are more challenging to address later on."