SINGAPORE - Public healthcare institutions are waiving delivery fees for patients on prescription medication, as more stay at home amid the Covid-19 outbreak.
The Straits Times understands that the free delivery currently offered by healthcare institutions under the National Healthcare Group (NHG), SingHealth and National University Health System may be extended until Singapore's disease outbreak response level is downgraded from orange.
Deliveries usually cost between $4 and upwards of $20, depending on the volume and speed.
The Health Ministry said that more than 43,500 deliveries were made from public healthcare institutions between April 1 and April 18, more than five times the 7,600 deliveries made in the month of January.
Ms Chan Soo Chung, executive director of National Healthcare Group Pharmacy, told The Straits Times that such deliveries are available to patients who are stable, on regular prescriptions for chronic diseases, and who do not need to change their medications or require additional medication counselling.
"Since the start of the Covid-19 circuit breaker, more patients have been staying at home and many of them have contacted the pharmacies at various NHG institutions to request medication refills," she said.
"Additionally, doctors in NHG institutions have been proactively reviewing patients' case notes to identify those who are eligible for medication delivery or tele-consultation."
Medications requiring refrigeration, such as insulin, require couriers to follow strict procedures and have the necessary equipment to handle cold-chain items, said Ms Chan.
NHG, which has six polyclinics and hospitals including Tan Tock Seng Hospital and Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in its network, works with several courier services, including Speedpost.
Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) pharmacy director Lim Mun Moon said the number of requests for medication deliveries across SingHealth's network has doubled between January and March.
"This is in part due to the current Covid-19 situation, where strict guidelines on patient movement and visitor policy have been implemented at our institutions and pharmacies to keep our patients, caregivers and staff safe," he said.
SingHealth's pharmacy teams have been ensuring demand is met by, for example, closing SGH's Block 3 outpatient pharmacy to focus fully on medication delivery operations, said Mr Lim.
Patients can opt to have their medicines delivered to their doorstep or to collect them from selected bluPort lockers across the island or at Prescription in a Locker Box (Pilbox) locker stations at SingHealth Polyclinics.
SingPost launched its medicine dispatch service in February, offering doorstep deliveries through its Speedpost courier arm.
Mr Ong Chin Kai, SingPost’s deputy vice-president of post and parcel delivery, said it rolled out the service to help out in Singapore's battle against Covid-19.
"Through these deliveries, it is our hope that patients who might be understandably wary of visiting healthcare institutions during this period can have peace of mind, and front-line medical workers can focus their efforts on emergencies as well as battling the pandemic."
Speedpost currently does deliveries for National University Hospital, as well as the Geylang, Hougang and Toa Payoh Polyclinics under NHG. Discussions with other healthcare providers are ongoing, said Mr Ong.
Speedpost delivers medicines to about 300 patients daily.
It began to deliver temperature-controlled medications this week, after developing cold-chain capabilities and training couriers on the process of handling them.
SingPost is open to exploring POPStations as a mode of collection should there be demand for it, Mr Ong added.
Other service providers are also branching into delivery of medicines and other essentials amid a surge in demand.
Fashion e-retailer Zalora, for example, added an "essentials" category to its e-commerce stores in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines last month.
The category includes hand sanitisers, face masks and health supplements, sourced from locally-based suppliers.
"With the majority of retailers closing stores temporarily, we are seeing a marked shift to online shopping across many retail sectors," a spokesman said, adding that Zalora hopes to make necessary supplies more accessible.
Pandamart, the grocery delivery arm of food delivery service foodpanda, now offers 40,000 products including over-the-counter medications and household essentials from retailers such as FairPrice Xpress.
It has seen a "sustained increase" in demand for fresh fruits, beverages, groceries and household essentials since January, when it launched its 24-hour delivery service called pandanow, a spokesman said.
Ride-hailing firm Grab said it is expanding the assortment, merchant selection and coverage of its grocery delivery service GrabMart to meet the growing needs of its customers during the circuit breaker period.
Its on-demand courier service GrabExpress also offers delivery of prescription medicines for patients of telemedicine provider WhiteCoat.