Hospitals will take months to clear backlog amid Covid-19 pandemic: Kenneth Mak

Some patients may be in a worse condition because they have not been able to go to hospitals for regular follow-ups, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.
Some patients may be in a worse condition because they have not been able to go to hospitals for regular follow-ups, said Associate Professor Kenneth Mak.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - With many follow-up visits and elective operations postponed to accommodate the rising number of Covid-19 patients, it will take months for hospitals to catch up with the backlog.

Singapore's director of medical services Kenneth Mak said this on Thursday (Oct 7) during a panel discussion at this year's Singapore Health & Biomedical Congress, which is being held virtually.

Because of the pandemic, a number of people with chronic diseases have not been able to go to hospitals for their follow-up checks, said Associate Professor Mak.

This was also the case last year when Singapore went into a circuit breaker period from April, with tough restrictions put in place to stop the spread of Covid-19.

"For a number of people, we've managed to mitigate concerns about not being able to come back to hospitals through the use of telehealth technologies. But that is not everyone," said Prof Mak.

"There will be a subgroup of patients who will come back with illnesses and diseases perhaps worse off, because they have not come back to hospitals for regular follow-ups."

These patients may have skipped taking their medication or failed to refill their prescription, he said.

"There is the expectation that we will be quite busy looking after even these patients as well," noted Prof Mak.

Hospitals have been busy looking after Covid-19 patients, but a number of them have outreach programmes to look after existing patients with chronic diseases, he said.

"So we hope that this pool of people with conditions worsening is not big, but nonetheless, catching up will take months," Prof Mak said.

He added that the pool includes patients needing elective operations, and those who have been waiting to return for day surgery and major surgery.

"Even though we've prioritised those with urgent conditions and cancers, there are still a lot of patients who would have other conditions that require treatment in the hospital setting," said Prof Mak.

Singapore is now battling a wave of Covid-19 infections that has put pressure on the healthcare system.

As at Wednesday, 1,520 patients with the virus are hospitalised here.


(From left) Ms Salma Khalik, Professor Philip Choo, Associate Professor Jeremy Lim and Associate Professor Kenneth Mak during the 19th Singapore Health and Biomedical Congress 2021 at Singapore Expo on Oct 7, 2021. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Professor Philip Choo, the group chief executive of the National Healthcare Group, which organised the congress, said Tan Tock Seng Hospital has seconded many staff members to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases. 

Additional manpower has also been roped in from other institutions like the Institute of Mental Health and the National Skin Centre, said Prof Choo, who was also a panellist.

“They have actually cut down their business as usual to quite a significant level,” he added.

He and Prof Mak were two of three experts who spoke during the panel discussion, which was moderated by Straits Times senior health correspondent Salma Khalik.

The other two panellists were Professor Philip Choo, the group chief executive of the National Healthcare Group, and Associate Professor Jeremy Lim. Prof Lim is the director of the Leadership Institute for Global Health Transformation at the National University of Singapore's Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health.