SINGAPORE - Most hospitals are reducing non-urgent surgery as they ramp up capacity to prepare for a rise in Covid-19 cases but life-saving treatment for afflictions like cancer or stroke will not be affected.
All hospitals were asked on Monday (May 3) to defer non-urgent surgery and appointments at specialist outpatient clinics until further notice.
The authorities are on the alert as worrisome new variants of Covid-19 are spreading fast in the community.
The number of new community cases had risen to 64 in the past week, from 11 the week before, noted the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Tuesday.
It added that 10 cases of the variants spreading in India have been identified here; half are part of Singapore's largest active cluster at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH). TTSH has ceased taking in new patients as it focuses on containing the spread and caring for existing patients.
Professor Terrance Chua, the group chairman of SingHealth's medical board, said its institutions will be temporarily deferring non-urgent surgery, admissions and specialist outpatient clinic appointments until further notice.
Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Changi General Hospital are among the hospitals under SingHealth.
"The rescheduling of procedures and appointments will only be done for non-urgent cases which our clinical teams have reviewed to be safe for a temporary deferment," said Prof Chua.
He said patients will be contacted, adding: "We are also working closely with them to arrange teleconsultations and alternative care arrangements where suitable."
Professor Fong Kok Yong, co-chair of the SingHealth Disease Outbreak Taskforce, said hospitals are prepared to increase capacity as necessary: "Besides our existing isolation facilities and the possibility of converting existing wards, we also have dedicated facilities that can support the care of Covid-19 patients."
SGH has 50 isolation units at Ward @ Bowyer that opened last July, while its Bright Vision community hospital continues to receive clinically stable Covid-19 patients who require inpatient care, he said.
There's a sense of deja vu at the hospitals, which started to defer non-urgent or elective procedures some time in February last year before gradually resuming around the end of the April-June circuit breaker period.
The hospitals will assess which non-urgent appointments to defer. While it's not clear which ones will be deferred, they could include complex, open surgery such as those for the prostate or spine, or total knee replacement done for elderly patients, who may require a few days in hospital.
Some private hospitals are also helping with Singapore's Covid-19 fight.
Dr Noel Yeo, chief operating officer of IHH Healthcare Singapore, said it is managing its surgical and admission loads in consultation with doctors "so as to avail capacity, resources and manpower to support our colleagues in the public sector". It has committed up to 70 beds in three hospitals for Covid-19 patients.
Raffles Hospital, too, is involved.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told a briefing on Tuesday that MOH is preparing the healthcare system for any potential rise in community cases and new clusters as it continues to test and contain the TTSH cluster. He said: "We hope it will not happen, but we must be prepared for it."
There are 131 Covid-19 patients in hospitals around the city, including two in intensive care.