Improving end-of-life care for patients

Health Ministry, S'pore Hospice Council team up to plug existing service gaps

Over the next three years, the Health Ministry will be working with the Singapore Hospice Council to improve the way people are cared for at the end of their lives.

This project is designed to plug "existing service gaps", said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.

It also aims to help all organisations in the sector meet the national guidelines for palliative care, which were introduced in 2014 and updated a year later.

"As individuals, many of us equate healthcare with extending longevity. Yet, there will come a time when medical interventions may no longer make us better, and may not reduce our pain and suffering," Mr Gan said, sharing details of the initiative, which was first mentioned during the Budget debates in March.

He was speaking at the Asia Pacific Hospice Conference, which is being held until tomorrow at the Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre.

The two agencies are also working to get people talking about end-of-life care at an earlier stage, Mr Gan added. This includes starting such conversations at primary care venues and specialist outpatient clinics. "We aim to reach out to 100,000 Singaporeans over the next four years," he said.

The Singapore Hospice Council will also be developing information packs on issues related to end-of-life care. These include topics such as palliative care services, advance care planning and making a Lasting Power of Attorney. Regular audits will also be carried out to see how well different groups are adhering to the guidelines.

Two of Singapore's regional health systems - the Eastern Health Alliance and National Healthcare Group (NHG) - will be running pilot programmes to provide palliative home care for non-cancer patients targeted to reach out to about 3,000 patients over the next five years.

The NHG programme will focus on people who are dying of organ failure - for example, of the kidneys, heart or lungs - within the next six months to a year.

Unlike cancer patients, who experience a gradual decline, end-stage organ failure patients often see sharp dips followed by an unexpected recovery. This makes providing palliative care for them slightly more challenging, said Dr Wu Huei Yaw, a senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

The aim is to help make care more seamless for such patients and avoid unnecessary hospital visits. "If they are really in the last days, we can start discussing if we should bring them home from the hospice," Dr Wu said.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2017, with the headline Improving end-of-life care for patients. Subscribe