Hospitals screening Covid-19 patients at temporary areas as more seek help

Tentage at the emergency department of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Tentage outside Yishun Community Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
An ambulance outside the emergency department of National University Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI
Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Public hospitals here are using spaces set up with tents or other temporary structures to deal with the continuing flood of Covid-19 patients heading to their emergency departments.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital started receiving Covid-19 patients on Sept 24 at temporary holding areas that it set up at Yishun Community Hospital.

These holding areas are for those who require medical care while they wait to be transferred to a community care or treatment facility, the hospital said in a Facebook post that day.

Around that time, Tan Tock Seng Hospital also extended its emergency department to deal with the increased number of patients coming through its door.

Others, such as Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, are using the tents that they had set up last year for screening patients, when the cases in the migrant worker dormitories spiked.

Healthcare workers are working longer in full personal protective equipment to try to attend to patients and clear the queue quickly.

At emergency departments, the wait for a bed can be very long, with talk of some people having waited 20 hours or more to be warded.

Those with mild Covid-19 symptoms are being transferred by batches to community care facilities or Covid-19 treatment facilities.

The authorities are actively setting up beds for higher-risk patients who require close observation outside hospitals. They have announced that 3,700 beds in nine Covid-19 treatment facilities would be ready by the end of the month.

Singapore also has a Covid-19 home recovery scheme for people who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Monday (Oct 4) that it is also closely monitoring the hospital manpower situation given that close to 400 healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19.

Covid-19 hospitalisations in Singapore have shot through the roof, with 1,355 patients warded as at Monday.

A tentage bearing the signage "Isolation Bay" outside Gleneagles Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: CHONG JUN LIANG

MOH has said that about 15 per cent of Singapore's hospital bed capacity has been utilised for Covid-19 patients.

Publicly available MOH data showed that there were 9,610 inpatient beds at the acute public hospitals here as at 2020.

Its data also showed that the bed occupancy rate at eight public hospitals here ranged from around 78 per cent to nearly 90 per cent as at Sept 25.

The hospitals have had to open new wards for patients with Covid-19 as they grapple with a disease that had not existed prior to last year. They have to postpone elective procedures when cases surge.

Professor Paul Tambyah, speaking as president of the Asia Pacific Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infection, said that the demand on public hospitals is "significant and extremely challenging".

By way of comparison, he said the number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 far outstrips the number hospitalised with cancer.

There were 5,800 hospitalisations for cancer for the whole of 2018, according to the latest MOH data on this.

Tentages are set up near the emergency department of Tan Tock Seng Hospital on Oct 5, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

"We have learnt to move most cancer care to the outpatient setting even though these patients are all vulnerable, not just from the chemotherapy but also the cancer," he said.

"We need to learn how to do that for the much less fatal acute infection that is Sars-CoV-2. The general practitioners are critical, in my opinion."

Singapore's Covid-19 cases started surging from end-August. This led to the authorities imposing a one-month period of tightened restrictions till Oct 24 to slow the spread.

Professor Leo Yee Sin, executive director of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), the first responder to emerging infections, said that the centre received the majority share of the recent surge in Covid-19 cases as it is equipped with purpose-built isolation rooms needed to handle the disease.

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"Given the high number of community cases, all hospitals are also admitting the severe Covid-19 cases."

Prof Leo said that since the implementation of the home recovery programme, more cases have been shifted away from NCID and the hospitals.

"Our healthcare system will continue to monitor the situation closely and calibrate the medical response to Covid-19 as we transit into a Covid-19-resilient system."

New Covid-19 cases here shot past the 2,000-mark for the first time on Sept 28 and remains above this level.

A total of 2,475 new Covid-19 cases were recorded on Monday, though around 98 per cent of the Covid-19 cases here are mild or asymptomatic due to the high vaccination rate.

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