Singapore's biggest provider of kidney dialysis treatment faces a shortage of spaces for new patients, as the number of Singaporeans with kidney failure increases.
For about half a year, starting from the end of this month, the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) will not be able to take on all the new patients it gets, until a new facility is ready in September.
As an interim solution, the charity will pay for new patients to go for their dialysis at private centres, said Mrs Eunice Tay, NKF's chief executive officer.
Needy patients who approach NKF will not be turned away, said its chairman Koh Poh Tiong who has promised: "No Singaporean will die because they have no access to dialysis."
It is, however, not clear what Singapore's overall capacity is. A call to the Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF), Singapore's second biggest voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) dialysis provider, found it was full for some days, but is still able to accept new patients.
KDF's three centres can take up to 318 haemodialysis (HD) patients.
There are about 30 other VWO-run dialysis centres and over 60 private ones. The NKF currently cares for over 4,100 dialysis patients, about two-thirds of the 6,500 in Singapore.
Between 2012 and last year, NKF's annual net increase in patients more than tripled from 100 to 324. It reflects the rising number of people who need dialysis here, a problem which grows at a rate among the highest in the world.
The NKF's 31 centres will only be able to take in new HD patients when slots are freed up by the death of existing patients. Each month, the NKF loses slightly more than 20 patients, but accepts about 50 new ones, giving it a net increase of 27 patients.
At the start of this month, it had only 20 HD slots left for new patients and these should be filled by month's end.
In order to meet the high demand for dialysis, the NKF has been opening two new centres a year for the past three years, but demand is still outstripping supply.
It will have new centres opening this September, December and next January. A mega centre catering to more than 700 patients will open in Jurong later next year.
But a spokesman said it is getting increasingly difficult to find sites for new centres, which cost about $2 million to build and another $2 million a year to run.
It is also difficult to recruit staff for its centres. So it will turn its efforts towards encouraging more people to turn to kidney transplants which give patients better quality of life and survival chances, and will work with other agencies to prevent kidney failure.
Singapore has an extremely high rate of kidney failure, with one new patient every five hours. Some get a transplant, some die within three months, and roughly two in three go on dialysis.
In 2015, there were 6,230 people on dialysis. That year, 1,237 new patients started dialysis and 792 existing patients died.
Singapore has the highest rate of kidney failures caused by diabetes in the world.
With one in nine adults here suffering from diabetes, the number of kidney failures here is set to rise.