Singapore's public healthcare will undergo a major shift in the coming year, bringing the entire suite of medical services closer to people's homes.
The six regional health systems of today will be streamlined into three "integrated" clusters.
This will be done by merging three of the current clusters with larger ones, based on geographical location. Between them, the three new, beefed-up clusters will cover the entire island.
Every cluster will then boast a fuller range of services, encompassing general hospitals, at least one community hospital and several polyclinics. Each cluster will also have a medical school.
The move is meant to address future healthcare challenges, such as a greying society and more people with chronic ailments, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong.
With each new cluster looking after more than a million Singapore residents - and offering the full range of medical services - people will find their healthcare needs being met closer to where they live.
This will mean mergers and consolidation within the existing six- cluster system that took shape between 2007 and 2009.
Singapore Health Services (SingHealth) will join forces with the Eastern Health Alliance, which oversees Changi General Hospital, to offer services in the east.
The National Healthcare Group (NHG) will merge with Alexandra Health System, which runs Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and Yishun Community Hospital, to handle the central region.
In the west, the National University Health System (NUHS) will be paired with Jurong Health Services, which manages Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital.
The three merged clusters will thereafter be known as SingHealth, NHG and NUHS respectively.
In line with the changes, the polyclinics will be regrouped.
Currently, SingHealth and NHG run nine polyclinics each. This would leave NUHS without any polyclinics. That is why a polyclinic group called National University Polyclinics is being formed. It will be operated by NUHS.
The move involves several polyclinics changing hands.
Two SingHealth polyclinics will be transferred - Geylang Polyclinic to NHG and Queenstown Polyclinic to NUHS.
Another four polyclinics, located in the west - Bukit Batok, Choa Chu Kang, Clementi and Jurong - will move from NHG to NUHS.
The public healthcare system has improved over the years, noted Mr Gan.
"Nevertheless, we cannot afford to stay still as there remain many challenges ahead, such as our ageing population, increased chronic disease burden and the need to manage future growth in healthcare manpower and spending."
The reorganisation will optimise resources, he said.
It is expected to be completed by early next year and will not disrupt existing services for patients.
"Patients will not need to make any changes, and can continue with their existing healthcare arrangements and appointments," said the Health Ministry (MOH).
No healthcare staff will be retrenched.
The building of new facilities will also carry on as planned. Some projects in the pipeline include Sengkang General Hospital and Bukit Panjang Polyclinic.
A medical school in each cluster may also offer more training op- portunities.
In the long run, patients can expect more seamless care.
A diabetic patient could be more easily linked up from a hospital to a primary care provider in a cluster or an external service provider, offering care closer to home.
"As with any reorganisation, change can understandably be uncomfortable and unsettling for some," said Professor Philip Choo, group chief executive of NHG. "That said, I strongly believe our patients will benefit."