A new social enterprise wants to shake up the adult diapers market by offering a cheaper option for those who cannot afford the $200 to $300 that it can cost for a month's supply.
Home Care Enterprises (HCE), set up by Changi General Hospital (CGH) last December, decided to enter the market after CGH staff learnt that some patients struggle to afford necessities such as adult diapers.
In some cases, patients at home changed diapers only twice a day - compared to the average of five or six times daily - to save on costs. Such infrequent changes can lead to bedsores, infections and complications - and more stays in hospital.
HCE will launch the Confidence brand of diapers next month at 65 cents a piece. Its general manager Benjamin Cheam said this is about 30 per cent cheaper than the median price of popular brands such as Tena Value and Lille Suprem Fit.
CGH chairman Gerard Ee said: "Our diapers will shake the market. We hope other distributors will lower their prices. Even if they don't, this will provide (patients with) a real alternative."
The diapers are made in Indonesia, and HCE is able to sell them at a lower price as it does not spend on advertising and fees for middlemen, and it keeps its profit margin low, at about 10 per cent, Mr Ee said.
Checks by The Straits Times found the most commonly found adult diaper brand in shops here is Tena Value, which costs between $9 and $10.70 for 10 pieces at supermarkets and pharmacies.
Ms Zahara Mahmood, assistant director of the Neighbours programme - which aims to reduce the number of hospital admissions of the frail elderly - said 60 per cent of some 300 seniors regularly admitted to CGH depend on diapers.
She said some of these patients scrimp and save on diapers, only to face other problems.
A former cleaner in his 60s who is incontinent, for instance, changed his diapers only twice a day to save money as each costs $1.20. But the man ended up getting urinary tract infections and was hospitalised two or three times in a month.
The launch of the diapers will come about a year after HCE's first product, an electric homecare bed - similar to the ones used in hospitals - hit the market last December.
Before the launch of HCE's bed, suppliers were selling their versions from just over $2,000 to about $23,000, Mr Cheam said. But suppliers have lowered their prices by 10 to 15 per cent after HCE launched its bed at $1,500, he added. Checks by ST found that the bulk of homecare beds on the market now cost between $1,200 and over $3,000.
Mr Ee said: "We are not competing against the lowest-priced products, as we want to maintain quality. We are here to effect change."
HCE aims to keep its profit margins low and supply quality products at a lower cost. But it has to be profitable to keep the enterprise sustainable, to pay salaries and develop new products, he added.
Besides selling beds, HCE also rents beds out for $200 a month to those who need them temporarily.
And B2 and C class CGH patients also get a subsidy for the first three months for diapers and bed rental. This is to help them in their transition from hospital to home.
Retiree Loh Kah Weng, 64, bought a bed from HCE for his mother, 86, as she had fractured her spinal cord. The bed makes it easier for her to get in and out.
Social workers like Jasmine Wong of the Hua Mei Mobile Clinic welcomed HCE's products, saying it will help cash-strapped families who do not qualify for government subsidies for such items.