Parliament: A&E departments at public hospitals can manage all life-threatening emergencies, says Edwin Tong

The A&E departments at eight public hospitals across the island, including Tan Tock Seng Hospital (pictured), offer adequate coverage to attend to emergency cases in Singapore. ST PHOTO: KELVIN CHNG

SINGAPORE - Accident and emergency (A&E) departments at public hospitals nationwide offer adequate services to manage all life-threatening emergencies, Senior Minister of State for Law and Health Edwin Tong told Parliament on Monday (Feb 03).

Private hospitals here, however, are currently not configured to manage all life-threatening emergencies or cases involving multiple patients with serious injuries, he added.

The issue was brought up after victims of a recent car accident at Lucky Plaza in Orchard Road were taken to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) instead of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, a private hospital which was about 200m away from the scene of the accident.

The reason given was that TTSH, a public hospital, is far better equipped to handle such an emergency.

The accident in December last year left two women dead and another four injured. All were Filipino domestic helpers.

Mr Tong said that the A&E departments at eight public hospitals across the island offer adequate coverage to attend to emergency cases in Singapore.

These are Changi General Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, National University Hospital, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, Sengkang General Hospital, Singapore General Hospital and Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"All public hospital A&E departments are equipped and capable of providing resuscitation, stabilisation and initial treatment for all life-threatening emergencies, including trauma cases, for adults and children," he said. "Public hospitals must also fulfil the Ministry of Health's (MOH) standards of trauma care."

Mr Tong said MOH has had ongoing discussions with the private hospitals about their capabilities in handling emergency care.

"Currently, private hospitals are not configured to provide the full range of emergency and trauma services required to manage all life-threatening emergencies or situations involving multiple patients with serious injuries," he explained.

Over the last four years, his ministry has been collaborating with Raffles Hospital to handle non-life threatening and urgent Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) ambulance cases.

Mr Tong was responding to questions by Ms Joan Pereira (Tanjong Pagar GRC) and Workers' Party Non-Constituency MP Daniel Goh.

Ms Pereira asked whether MOH would consider requiring all private and public hospitals to be equipped to handle severe and multiple trauma cases in their A&E departments, and if there are enough emergency specialists here.

Dr Goh wanted to know whether private hospitals' emergency departments should be upgraded, so that they can be included in a tiered national accident and emergency system involving both public and private hospitals.

Mr Tong said MOH manages the training pipelines for emergency medicine and surgical specialists "to ensure that there are sufficient capabilities to meet national needs".

Currently, there are about 180 emergency medicine specialists and 240 general surgeons here.

On Dec 29 last year, the six Filipino victims were struck by a black Honda that crashed through a pavement railing and plunged several metres onto the exit lane of the Lucky Plaza carpark.

Passers-by rushed over to render assistance. Some lifted the car to pull out a woman trapped beneath, while others performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation on the other victims.

The SCDF took the six victims to TTSH in five ambulances. Two of them, Ms Abigail Danao Leste, 41, and Ms Arlyn Picar Nucos, 50, died from their injuries in hospital.

MOH and SCDF had earlier explained that SCDF emergency ambulances take patients with severe trauma to the nearest A&E department that is equipped with the necessary resources, equipment and specialist medical support to deal with such complexities of care. In this case, TTSH was the nearest such hospital, not Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

While Mount Elizabeth Hospital has a 24-hour walk-in emergency department, it is "not equipped or staffed to manage all forms of emergency cases", according to MOH. The ministry added that most private hospitals "are not able to provide proper resuscitation and emergency treatment for severe and multiple trauma patients".

Following the accident, Mount Elizabeth Hospital chief executive Noel Yeo said in a Facebook post that the hospital's 24-hour emergency department is open to all patients, regardless of who they are, and the hospital dispatches staff to attend to emergencies via its ambulance service.

He said the hospital's A&E team would have responded immediately had it been activated or informed of the incident.

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