SINGAPORE - As the Omicron wave eases, hospitals here are progressively shifting their focus back to serving non-Covid-19-related “business-as-usual” patients, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung.
“Hospitals are now freeing up some of the beds and manpower that had been ring-fenced for Covid-19,” Mr Ong said on Thursday (March 24) at a press conference by the multi-ministry task force tackling Covid-19.
Noting that the vast majority of emergency department patients now are not Covid-19-related, he said: “Most of them have chronic illnesses that may not have had close medical follow-ups over the past two years because everyone was just so preoccupied dealing with Covid-19.”
Referring to them as the hospitals’ “business-as-usual” (BAU) patients, he added: “We now have a BAU debt that has to be repaid one way or another.”
Mr Ong said this debt, which refers to the large number of chronically ill patients who need medical follow-ups, has become a separate non-Covid-19-related healthcare cost, and that whichever way Covid-19 infection numbers go, the impact on workflow at emergency departments may not be very steep.
But a longer-term structural response is needed, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) is addressing this issue, he added.
Apart from freeing up beds and manpower in hospitals to cater to BAU patients, the ministry is targeting to open three more nursing homes, in Pasir Ris, Potong Pasir and Henderson, next month to expand capacity for the long term.
"These would help with a significant number of patients from the hospitals, and these are patients currently in hospitals waiting for nursing homes," Mr Ong said.
MOH will continue to make full use of Covid-19 treatment facilities (CTF). The existing CTF in Tampines will be converted back to a nursing home around April.
Sengkang Community Hospital, which has been serving as a CTF, will be reconfigured to allow it to attend more to BAU patients to "especially" serve Sengkang General Hospital.
MOH's existing collaboration with private hospitals, such as Raffles Hospital, Mount Alvernia Hospital and Parkway hospitals, will also continue.
These hospitals have been a "tremendous help" and can help admit and manage some physically stable non-Covid-19 patients.
On Wednesday, the number of people who are in hospital for Covid-19 fell slightly to 951. The last time the number of Covid-19 cases in hospital here was below 1,000 was on Feb 4.
About 95 per cent of the eligible population in Singapore have completed their full vaccination regimen, and 71 per cent of the total population have received a booster shot.