Mental health cases treated at polyclinics

Dr Wei Ker-Chiah, chief of IMH's department of community psychiatry, treating a patient at Queenstown Polyclinic.
Dr Wei Ker-Chiah, chief of IMH's department of community psychiatry, treating a patient at Queenstown Polyclinic.PHOTO: IMH
Dr Low Kang Yih, a family physician, with a patient at the Dementia Care Clinic at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic.
Dr Low Kang Yih, a family physician, with a patient at the Dementia Care Clinic at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic.PHOTO: NHGP

They make mental health or dementia care accessible and reduce the stigma for those afraid to go to IMH

Housewife Ng Guat Hua, 64, who suffers from anxiety, had previously sought help at a hospital whenever she had an anxiety attack.

But now, she goes to a polyclinic near her home for help.

Meanwhile, Mr Steven Tan (not his real name), 63, seeks treatment for depression at Queenstown Polyclinic.

Though the service at the polyclinic is run by the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), he said it felt more reassuring to go to a neighbourhood clinic rather than a hospital.

In recent years, it has become easier for people with mental conditions, whatever their age, to seek help at a polyclinic nearby.

By 2021, one in two polyclinics will have mental health or dementia clinics or both, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced in March. This is part of its plan to strengthen community mental health care over the next five years.

  • 7

    Number of polyclinics, out of the total of 18 in Singapore, which now offer mental health services.

    1 in 2

    Number of polyclinics with mental health or dementia clinics or both, by 2021, as planned by the Ministry of Health.

This expansion will make mental health and dementia care more accessible, said a joint statement from MOH and the Agency for Integrated Care.

Polyclinics offer subsidised primary care. There are two healthcare groups - National Healthcare Group and SingHealth - which run polyclinics.

Currently, seven out of the 18 polyclinics in Singapore offer mental health services. The first such clinic opened at Geylang Polyclinic in 2003, followed by Queens- town Polyclinic in 2008.

More mental health clinics, as well as five clinics offering dementia care services, have opened at various polyclinics since 2012.

The latest polyclinic to do so is in Jurong, which started its Health & Mind Service last year.

  • Mental health clinics

  • ANG MO KIO POLYCLINIC

    Health & Mind Service (No walk-ins, referrals only)

    JURONG POLYCLINIC

    Health & Mind Service (No walk-ins, referrals only)

    WOODLANDS POLYCLINIC

    Health & Mind Service (No walk-ins, referrals only)

    OUTRAM POLYCLINIC

    Health Wellness Clinic (No walk-ins, referrals only)

    TAMPINES POLYCLINIC

    Health Wellness Clinic (No walk- ins, referrals only)

    GEYLANG POLYCLINIC

    Community Wellness Clinic (By appointment only, call 6389-2200)

    QUEENSTOWN POLYCLINIC

    Community Wellness Clinic (By appointment only, call 6389-2200)

It is clear that there is demand for such services at polyclinics.

For instance, the two mental health clinics in Outram and Tampines saw more than 3,000 cases from July 2013 to the end of last year.

The mental health services at polyclinics treat common problems such as depression, insomnia or anxiety disorders. An MOH spokesman said: "These patients typically have co-morbid chronic physical conditions, which make them vulnerable to developing mental health issues."

They are referred from the general pool of polyclinics for further assessment and care, he said.

BETTER ACCESSIBILITY

But the better accessibility to care is not just a matter of distance.

Dr Wei Ker-Chiah, chief of IMH's department of community psychiatry, said: "There is also less stigma attached to seeing a doctor at a polyclinic. Patients benefit from the management of co-morbidities of medical conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure."

Most of the polyclinics' mental health services operate once or twice a week and do not see walk-in clients. Patients must be referred.

Only IMH's satellite clinics, which operate five days a week, accept patients who are not referred. But they have to make an appointment.

Each of the clinics is managed by a multi-disciplinary team, comprising family physicians, nurses, medical social workers and psychologists, said the MOH spokesman.

At some polyclinics, doctors are guided by hospital specialists. At SingHealth polyclinics, for example, doctors work with psychiatrists from Singapore General Hospital or Changi General Hospital. These patients have mild to moderate conditions.

Those with severe depression, anxiety disorders or insomnia will still have to be seen at IMH or the psychiatric departments of restructured hospitals, said the SingHealth spokesman.

The IMH satellite clinics have a multi-disciplinary group of IMH specialists, including occupational therapists and community psychia- tric nurses.

The more common mental health conditions seen there are schizo- phrenia, depression and anxiety disorders, said Dr Wei.

"Treatment includes the use of medication and psychological therapies, which are tailored to the patient's needs," he added.

Charges at the polyclinic mental health clinics are similar to consultation fees at polyclinics. For example, a consultation with a family physician may cost around $24 to $30.

The increased provision of community mental wellness care is beginning to bear fruit.

Dr Winnie Soon, a family physician and consultant at Ang Mo Kio Polyclinic, said the early detection and management of mental health issues have helped to reduce the stigma associated with the illness. It has also encouraged people to seek help for their condition.

Dr Wei said: "By focusing on prevention and creating more awareness of mental health issues and avenues of help, we can address the needs of patients earlier. We can also detect and manage problems before they become more severe."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2017, with the headline 'Mental health cases treated at polyclinics'. Print Edition | Subscribe