Why It Matters

Paradigm shift in healthcare

The healthcare system here is undergoing a paradigm shift.

The Health Ministry has drawn up a sensible plan for the coming decades, taking in the limitations of a shrinking workforce coupled with a rapidly growing need for eldercare services as the population ages.

The road map includes tapping technology to raise productivity and reduce the need for manpower. But the real challenge to the system is to keep demand for services down.

But to this, too, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has an answer. He spoke of the need to "aggressively" promote health and preventive health services.

Singapore has been doing this quite well in the past, resulting in people here living some of the longest lives, behind only a handful of countries such as Japan, and more importantly, with more of the longer lives translating into healthy years.

But while he outlined in detail two of three major shifts needed - to move much of healthcare from hospital to home and community, and tap technology for more efficient care - he barely skimmed the subject of keeping people healthier for longer.

Yes, preventive health is great. In fact, it is a no-brainer. If everyone can stay healthy for just a few months more, the demand for healthcare services would fall significantly.

As is always the case, the devil is in the details. In this case, there were no details. Are there any concrete plans? Or was it merely rhetoric?

Perhaps the launch of the Healthcare Manpower Plan 2020 was the wrong platform for going into the details of this.

But this could be the most important of the three major shifts Mr Gan said is needed to keep healthcare here on track. If it can be successfully tackled, the need for manpower in the sector would be much less than projected. There will still be good jobs, but not the crying need that looms.

So while what has been announced is important, what has yet to be outlined will be even more so.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 24, 2016, with the headline 'Paradigm shift in healthcare'. Print Edition | Subscribe