Greater focus on preventive care to rein in soaring healthcare costs in S'pore: Ong Ye Kung

Health Minister Ong Ye Kung (centre) at the topping out ceremony of Woodlands Health on Feb 12, 2022. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

SINGAPORE - A national programme focusing on preventive care will be launched to help rein in soaring healthcare costs and reduce the burden on patients' families, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Saturday (Feb 12).

With healthcare expenditure expected to triple in the coming decade to almost $60 billion a year by 2030, Mr Ong said it will make a huge difference if chronic illness can be prevented or delayed.

"If we can prevent chronic diseases and severe diseases, we will age more gracefully, with much better quality of life.

"The burden on our family will be much less, the entire healthcare system will be more sustainable, and our whole nation's fiscal position will be more sustainable," said Mr Ong, who added that preventive care will be a key priority this year for the Ministry of Health.

More details of the national programme will be given during the debate in Parliament on the ministry's expenditure that follows the Budget on Feb 18.

Mr Ong was speaking at the topping out ceremony of Woodlands Health campus, which will have a total bed capacity of 1,800 from its acute hospital, community hospital and long-term care facility.

Woodlands Health, which was to have opened its doors this year but was delayed with manpower constraints caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, spans 10 blocks.

It is expected to open by the end of next year.

Mr Ong noted that the Government is spending a lot on healthcare, by investing in infrastructure and in recruiting doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers to run them.

"All this is needed because of the inexorable trend that our population is ageing," he said.

The median age of the population last year was 41.8 years, up from 34 years in 2000. By 2030, there will be around 900,000 people here aged 65 years and older.

This alone will push up healthcare costs, said Mr Ong, who noted that as a population grows older, more people will fall sick and need medical care.

His predecessors in the Health Ministry had also directed more money into preventive care, which resulted in initiatives like Screen for Life.

Woodlands Health will have a total bed capacity of 1,800 from its acute hospital, community hospital and long-term care facility. PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

The heavily subsidised national screening programme which offers tests for chronic illnesses like diabetes, and for three cancers, is capped at $5 for Singaporeans. It is free for the Pioneer Generation.

Mr Ong said tackling the chronic disease problem requires patience, as it takes at least five years before some results can be seen, and 10 years for its effects to be felt.

"Ultimately, that is the most effective solution to make the population healthier, and reduce the pain and suffering we and our families go through as we age," said the Health Minister.

He added that many good ideas have come out of discussions held with various parties, some of which he plans to introduce into the healthcare system. But the key is to act early.

"When doctors see a patient, sometimes quite advanced in age, coming to the hospital with multiple problems and chronic illnesses neglected for many years, they always ask: 'Why wasn't something done earlier?'" noted Mr Ong.

If they had done health screenings and discovered their problems early, and acted on them, it would have made a huge difference to their health, he said.

"The imperative is: Let's have a healthier Singapore. Let's have a healthier SG.

"That needs to be a key priority. And we will again require everyone to chip in and do their part," he added.

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