Coronavirus: Doctors, staff and patients to restrict movements to within one hospital

A photo from Feb 4, 2020, shows people with masks at the link bridge to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
A photo from Feb 4, 2020, shows people with masks at the link bridge to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - Doctors in the public sector will have to restrict their work to within one hospital, while patients and healthcare staff should also limit their movement across different healthcare premises.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) has sent this directive to public hospitals in a bid to reduce the risk of cross inter-institutional transmission of the novel coronavirus. It took effect from Monday (Feb 10) and applies to all public hospital staff, including administrative and ancillary staff.

Responding to queries from The Straits Times, a MOH spokesman said while public hospitals remain committed to offering essential services such as treatment of coronavirus cases and emergency cases, non-urgent treatments and appointments are being progressively deferred where clinically appropriate, to allow hospitals to focus on essential services.

Said the ministry: "We will be working closely with the healthcare institutions to explore various means for this to be carried out effectively without impacting patient care and safety."

The Straits Times has reached out to MOH for more details of the process.

Healthcare professionals in the private hospitals and specialist clinics have also been advised to similarly avoid cross-institutional movement, said the ministry. It is not mandatory for them at this point.

Parkway Pantai, Mount Alvernia Hospital and Thomson Medical said they will be following the MOH guidelines closely, their spokesmen told The Straits Times.

Said a Thomson Medical spokesman: "Should the restriction be implemented, we anticipate some impact to maternity patients, who will have to decide if they wish to follow their gynaecologist or the hospital of their choice to see to their maternity needs."

At Parkway Pantai, which is the biggest private chain with four hospitals, staff doctors in its employ will be restricted to one facility, similar to that in government hospitals, said Dr Noel Yeo, CEO of Mount Elizabeth Hospital. These are usually accident and emergency doctors or radiologists.

But specialist doctors can choose up to two Parkway Pantai hospitals at which to treat their patients. In a circular sent to the doctors, they were told they have up to noon on Friday (Feb14) to declare their primary and secondary sites of practice.

The restriction will take effect from next Monday (Feb 17).

The Parkway Pantai chain of hospitals in Singapore includes Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, East Shore and Mount Elizabeth Novena.

Said Dr Tan Chi Chiu, a gastroenterologist with a clinic at Gleneagles Hospital: "We had the separation during Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome) as well and we coped. Personally, I do all my work in Gleneagles anyway, so it doesn't affect me."

One doctor who requested not to be named questioned if private-sector specialist doctors should be allowed to move between two hospitals and clinics.

He said: "There is a high chance of the virus spreading in hospitals, just like during Sars period. Hence limiting the movement of doctors to one hospital will help to limit the spread of the virus."