Coronavirus: Smooth first day of operations for GP clinics providing subsidised treatment

The Ministry of Health activated at least 687 clinics in its Public Health Preparedness Clinics network on Feb 18, 2020. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - The first day of operations went smoothly for general practice clinics designated to provide treatment for people with respiratory symptoms, as the Ministry of Health (MOH) activated at least 687 clinics on Tuesday (Feb 18) in its Public Health Preparedness Clinics (PHPCs) network.

The ministry on Tuesday also sent out two weeks' worth of personal protective equipment (PPEs) to PHPC clinics, including N95 and surgical masks, disposable gowns and gloves.

Six clinics and clinic chains told The Straits Times they saw no significant difference in the number of patients seeking medical attention, but were anticipating more in the coming days.

Dr Leong Choon Kit, a family physician at Mission Medical Clinic in Serangoon, said: "Once news spreads about the scheme, it might prompt more people to see the doctor."

Clinic chains Healthway Medical, Raffles Medical and Northeast Medical Group are also making preparations by marking out separate seating areas for patients with respiratory symptoms, and taking precautions with their staff.

Dr Tan Teck Jack, medical director of Northeast Medical Group, which has nine clinics, said: "We will designate a separate area where patients with fever, cough or a runny nose are seated away from other patients, or we will have them seated outside our clinics while waiting for their turns. They should also have masks on and those with more severe symptoms will be isolated and the doctor informed immediately."

Healthway Medical, which is expecting a 10 per cent increase in numbers, said doctors and clinic staff will be wearing PPEs.

"Our central procurement team is working around the clock to adequately stock all clinics with the necessary medications and equipment to deal with the increased patient load," said Dr John Cheng, head of primary care at the group, which has 47 PHP clinics.

Raffles Medical is also anticipating a 5 to 10 per cent increase in patient numbers. "We believe this subsidy may encourage more to come forward to see a doctor," Mr Yong Yih Ming, general manager at Raffles Medical, told ST.

Citizens and permanent residents will pay a flat rate of $10 for consultation and treatment at PHPCs, while the Pioneer and Merdeka generation Singaporeans will pay $5.

Doctors at all clinics, including those not designated as a PHPC, have also been advised to give five days of sick leave to patients with respiratory symptoms.

GPs noted that any concerns over the abuse of the five-day sick leave are unfounded.

Dr Pauline Neow, a GP at Mei Ling Clinic, said: "You need to trust that patients will be honest with their symptoms and sometimes, it is better to play on the safe side."

Dr Leong added: "Some people might rather not have a five-day MC due to the fear that they will not have enough MCs (sick leave days) to last the rest of the year."

One patient, housewife Jennifer Yap, 48, who was taking her 10-year-old daughter to see the doctor, said that she was unaware of the scheme and was pleasantly surprised when her doctor told her about it. "My daughter had a slight fever and a blocked nose. This scheme will definitely make me more willing to visit the doctor, but if I have medicine, I might still try to self medicate first," Ms Yap said.

"For adults, the five-day MC is probably a bit too long, though one should definitely stay at home if they are sick to prevent passing the bug around. But I may let my daughter return to school earlier if the symptoms are gone, or she might fall behind too much in her lessons."

However, taking the full five-day sick leave may be the most socially responsible thing to do now, said doctors.

Dr Tan, from Northeast Medical, said he would encourage people to see the doctor as well, even for mild symptoms. "We are dealing with a public health issue of a virus spreading and since it is also the flu season now, having patients with mild symptoms rest at home will help to reduce the viral load in the community, not just of the coronavirus, but all viruses," he said.

"The PHPC will also help patients see the doctor more easily and not flood the hospitals and risk being in contact with more sick patients. This saves hospital resources and allows them to deal with more serious cases."

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