Public hospitals attended to 10,900 foreign patients last year, and that figure made up about 1.5 per cent of total patients, revealed Senior Minister of State for Health Lam Pin Min. He also gave the assurance that meeting Singaporeans' needs was the priority for public healthcare institutions.
He was responding in Parliament to Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied GRC), who asked for an absolute figure on the number of foreigners treated at public hospitals. Mr Singh also asked whether appointments for subsidised patients would be brought forward after the Health Ministry's (MOH) decision to stop foreign patient referrals.
Ms Cheng Li Hui (Tampines GRC) asked if MOH was aware of public hospitals engaging foreign agents to bring in overseas patients, how long such practices had been going on and whether foreign patients crowd out Singaporeans in hospitals.
The Sunday Times first reported in September that the National University Hospital, Singapore General Hospital and Changi General Hospital had engaged foreign agents, and paid them commissions, to refer patients from overseas. Asked about the practice, MOH said it had told the hospitals to stop engaging foreign agents.
Yesterday, Dr Lam reiterated that public health institutions are not allowed to actively market themselves to foreign patients. "Today, none of our public health institutions have contracts with such service providers any more," he said.
However, he added, there are foreign patients who travel to Singapore on their own to seek medical treatment. Between 2013 and last year, such patients made up about 1.5 per cent of the total inpatient and day surgery attendances at public health institutions. That figure was 2.4 per cent in 2008.
Dr Lam said foreign patients whose referrals were supported by contracted service providers made up about 0.4 per cent of attendances in public health institutions.
Responding to Mr Singh's question on the waiting time for subsidised patients, Dr Lam said: "Singaporeans remained the majority of patients treated in the public health institutions.
"Foreign patients have not impacted our public health institutions' delivery of services and subsidised appointment slots given to Singaporeans. In fact, the median waiting time for new subsidised specialist appointments has improved steadily from 28 days in 2013 to 22 days in the first half of 2018.
"MOH will continue to work with our public health institutions to ensure that meeting Singaporeans' healthcare needs remains our priority."