Longer wait for admission with most public hospitals seeing more A&E patients, Covid-19 cases

MOH had earlier urged those with mild acute respiratory infection symptoms to avoid seeking treatment in hospitals. ST PHOTO: KHALID BABA

SINGAPORE - Some patients requiring admission have had to wait longer for beds, with most emergency departments (EDs) at public hospitals kept busier in the past week compared with the month before, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Monday (Sept 20).

The EDs are also seeing a higher number of Covid-19 cases, with more beds diverted to meet their needs, a spokesman told The Straits Times.

"While the hospitals had been scaling back non-urgent surgery and admissions, the overall hospital capacity utilisation is getting more and more tight."

According to the latest data available from MOH's website, the median waiting time for admission to wards from EDs was as high as 14½ hours at Ng Teng Fong General Hospital during the week beginning Sept 5.

Data for the week beginning Sept 12 is not available yet.

Asked if the increased number of patients visiting EDs was worrying, Singapore's director for medical services, Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, said on Monday that it was likely that many who are well end up going to the hospital as they are worried and are not sure what to do.

"And a lot of people are actually very anxious," said Prof Mak, who spoke to ST on the sidelines of the Singaporean Researchers Global Summit at the Nanyang Technological University.

Minister for Health Ong Ye Kung said in a Facebook post on Sunday that while the overall intensive care unit (ICU) capacity is holding up, the Singapore healthcare system's accident and emergency (A&E) departments, as well as general wards, are "coming under pressure".

"Our hospitals and healthcare workers cannot be overburdened. At this point, this is MOH's biggest challenge and we are doing our best to solve this," he added.

This is why younger, fully vaccinated people are being encouraged to recover at home, he wrote.

Mr Ong noted that more than 98 per cent of those infected from May 1 to last Thursday (Sept 16) had either no or mild symptoms, and tended to remain that way until recovery.

His comments came a day after MOH said some public hospitals had been experiencing a surge in patients who rushed to A&E departments with mild respiratory infection symptoms.

Hospitals like Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital posted online last week about the development, saying that priority would be given to the critically ill.

Tentage being set up at the carpark of the A&E department at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, seen at around 4pm on Sept 20, 2021. ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

MOH on Saturday night urged those with mild acute respiratory infection symptoms to avoid seeking treatment in hospitals, and instead consult a general practitioner (GP) at a Swab and Send Home (Sash) clinic.

"The Sash GPs are capable of assessing the severity of their symptoms and perform Covid-19 diagnostic tests when needed to confirm their status," the ministry noted.

"This allows those with more severe illnesses and who are in need of urgent care to be attended to quickly and helps to preserve hospital capacity for those who truly need hospital care."

As at Sunday, 873 Covid-19 patients were hospitalised, with 118 requiring oxygen supplementation and 21 in ICU.

MOH also announced on Sunday that a new category of community care facilities will be set up for Covid-19 patients who are generally well but have underlying health conditions that require closer monitoring.

The move is aimed at augmenting hospital capacity so that only Covid-19 patients who need close and specialised medical attention - such as oxygen supplementation or intensive care - will be hospitalised.

The first stepped-up community care facility for Covid-19 patients will be at the NTUC Health nursing home in Tampines. It will start operations on Thursday with 250 beds.

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