Community networks for seniors to be piloted soon in three to five areas: Heng Swee Keat

Elderly folk participating in an exercise session at Henderson Senior Citizens' Home in 2011.
Elderly folk participating in an exercise session at Henderson Senior Citizens' Home in 2011. PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - A new programme to better coordinate support services for the elderly in the community will be piloted in three to five precincts over the next few months, and then scaled up if successful.

Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat, who first announced the Community Network for Seniors pilot in his Budget speech, gave these details about the scale and timeline of the scheme to reporters on the sidelines of a visit to the Thong Kheng Senior Activity Centre (TKSAC) in Bukit Merah on Wednesday (March 30).

The support networks will comprise local stakeholders such as non-profit organisations, schools and businesses.

At the heart of the scheme is a small team of full-time officers who will study the health and social needs of seniors.

Through these networks, the Government hopes to help seniors discover health issues earlier and manage them well.

It also hopes to connect those who are healthy and mobile to a wide range of activities to encourage them to stay active.

Mr Heng said: "Our population is ageing rapidly. To enable our seniors to age with dignity and vitality, we need to shift our centre of care from the hospital setting to the neighbourhood.

Asked how this initiative differs from existing social service offices (SSOs) which also help to coordinate support efforts, he said: "SSOs look after broad social needs, but if you look at the healthcare needs, (we need to see) how we can work more closely together with the Health Promotion Board and hospitals... This is a very important initiative."

Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, and Ms Joan Pereira, MP for Tanjong Pagar GRC, joined Mr Heng in the visit.

Dr Khor said the pilot programme would allow help groups to be more effective in reaching out to seniors.

"The various organisations and agencies may be reaching out to the same seniors and then there are some seniors that are not reached."

The pilot programme could lead to stronger partnerships and help services that are better coordinated, she added.

The TKSAC is in Ms Pereira's Henderson-Dawson ward. It now has a similar network to help seniors. This is coordinated by the Henderson-Dawson Citizens Consultative Committee.

Ms Pereira gave an example of an existing programme to help socially isolated seniors. Students are involved in befriending the elderly, shopkeepers and hawkers help to provide food rations and financial help, while welfare groups offer therapy and counselling services.

She said she hopes the Community Network for Seniors will be piloted in her ward.

"It can build on what we already have, and we can reach out to more people in a systematic approach."