New Healthcare Services Bill to have far broader scope and more teeth

MOH is extending the scope of the Healthcare Services Bill it is drafting to include traditional medicine, allied healthcare such as physiotherapy, as well as complementary and alternative medicine.
MOH is extending the scope of the Healthcare Services Bill it is drafting to include traditional medicine, allied healthcare such as physiotherapy, as well as complementary and alternative medicine.ST PHOTO: ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Ministry of Health (MOH) plans to replace the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act with a new Act that has far wider scope and more powers, to reflect the changes in the healthcare scene.

The current Act deals only with physical entities. But with the increasing use of virtual care such as telemedicine, the law will need to cover this too, said MOH.

At the same time, the ministry is extending the scope of the Healthcare Services Bill it is drafting to include traditional medicine, allied healthcare such as physiotherapy, as well as complementary and alternative medicine.

MOH said that while these will be included in the proposed Bill, there are no plans currently to require licensing of these services.

The Bill also makes it mandatory for all healthcare institutes, including laboratories, to input patient data in the National Electronic Health Records (NEHR).

As the last substantial amendment to the current Act was in 1999, the new Bill also updates penalties to reflect today's economy. For example, under the current legislation, someone without a relevant licence who offers a healthcare service can be fined up to $20,000 and jailed for up to 24 months. In the new Bill, the maximum fine will be raised to $100,000, while the jail term is unchanged.

There is also a slew of new punishable offences. One example is furnishing false or misleading statements to the MOH, such as when applying for a clinic licence. The maximum fine for the offence is $20,000 and a jail term of up to one year.

The ministry said the broader scope is needed to safeguard patient safety and welfare, strengthen regulatory clarity, enhance governance of healthcare providers and ensure continuity of care and accountability.

The last refers to a new "step-in" for residential care services such as nursing homes, should they not be able to continue due to factors such as bankruptcy. A temporary operator will be appointed to ensure that all patients continue to be cared for till they can be transferred to another place.

There will also be restrictions on employment of staff to take care of the frail elderly, such as in a hospice or a nursing home. This is in line with the care for young children in childcare centres. So someone who has, for example, been caught abusing an elderly person will not be allowed to work in such settings.

The Bill also proposes to list specific practices and services that are considered unsafe and prohibited here, such as mesotherapy, where injections of a cocktail of vitamins, enzymes, hormones and plant extracts are given in aesthetic treatments. Often, the exact formula of the cocktail is not stated.

The Bill will also make it clear that licensed premises, such as a general practice clinic, cannot also house unlicensed services, such as a beauty salon. If one shop space is being shared, they must have a wall separating the two, with different entries.

New companies will not be allowed to use the words "national" or "Singapore" without permission. But those already so named will not be required to change their names.

Ms Tin Pei Ling, a member of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, said it was good to broaden the regulations to include non premises-based services.

She said: "With ageing, there is increasing need for mobile care services such as home nursing. Already, there are companies operating in this area of need where they match supply of professional freelance nurses to home- or bed-bound patients."

The full draft Bill was put online at noon on Friday (Jan 5), and the MOH is inviting feedback over the next six weeks. There will also be two public consultations on Jan 24 from 6pm to 9pm and on Feb 10 from 2pm to 5pm. Those interested can sign up at www.HCSA.sg