SINGAPORE - Primary care providers, such as family physicians, have displayed commitment and professionalism at every step of the way during the Covid-19 pandemic despite their demanding tasks, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Dec 3).
He was speaking at the College of Family Physicians' (CFPS) 50th anniversary celebration, which was held virtually on Friday evening.
Adding that primary care providers play critical roles on the front lines, PM Lee said: "Your efforts have contributed to the early detection, treatment and isolation of cases, which is all the more important now as we deal with the uncertainty of the Omicron variant."
Speaking at the event, Adjunct Associate Professor Tan Tze Lee, CFPS' president, noted that in the early stages of the pandemic, the college had supported general practitioners (GPs) on the front line by setting up a hotline which its council members manned over the Chinese New Year weekend.
"(This) proved to be a godsend for many of our GP colleagues, who needed advice and a listening ear," said Prof Tan.
The college also organised a number of townhall events and webinars to educate GPs about Covid-19, a new disease at the time, as well as other webinars to help them build resilience.
Thanking family physicians for their service during the pandemic, PM Lee said that Covid-19 or not, one of the key goals of Singapore's healthcare system is to keep as many patients out of the hospital as possible.
"We do this first by preventing people from falling sick, and if they do fall sick, we want to intervene early, before their conditions worsen. And where possible, look after them within the community," he said.
This, he added, is what primary care providers do best.
PM Lee said that Singapore must continue to build up primary care as the foundation of its healthcare system, especially since its population is ageing.
He also identified two areas that need to be worked on.
First, the relationships between family physicians and patients should be strengthened, potentially with patients always being seen by the same care team.
PM Lee noted that the National Healthcare Group has a programme at its polyclinics where patients are assigned to a regular team of doctors for their primary care needs.
This has resulted in them taking good control of their sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure levels, and the Government is keen to expand this across Singapore.
Second, there is a need to shift mindsets on how primary care services are provided, forging relationships with a wider network of partners and professionals, even beyond the healthcare sector.
For instance, doctors could work with social service agencies to better support vulnerable families, said PM Lee.
The Government will expand networks under the Primary Care Network scheme, allowing doctors to share resources and operate in teams.
It will also build closer partnerships between doctors and healthcare clusters, allowing doctors to tap the clusters' assets, said PM Lee.
Prof Tan noted that patients seek care that is friendly, accessible, affordable and holistic.
"They are often perplexed by the many appointments in hospitals to see various specialists. They often wish they could just see one clinician who is able to take care of all their problems.
"As family physicians, we are in the best position to coordinate their care and be the key person to deliver this continuity of care," he said.
Dr Wong Tien Hua, vice-president of CFPS, noted that because of resources being diverted to fight Covid-19 instead of dealing with the usual business of primary care, doctors have had less time to care for their patients with chronic needs, less time to look after patients' mental health, and less time to build a good doctor-patient relationship.
Dr Wong added: "As Covid-19 shifts to endemicity, I hope to see primary care capabilities freed up so that we can refocus to look after the needs of our ageing population, that we can continue to upgrade our skills to meet these needs, and to explore new models of care that can integrate and enhance our limited resources."