Coronavirus: Private hospitals see big drop in foreign patients

A nurse in protective gear speaking to a patient in the triage room (left) in a segregated emergency department intake area at the carpark of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, to separate those with coronavirus symptoms from other patients. It is among the p
A nurse in protective gear speaking to a patient in the triage room (left) in a segregated emergency department intake area at the carpark of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, to separate those with coronavirus symptoms from other patients. It is among the precautions the hospital has taken amid the outbreak.ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Many have postponed treatment in S'pore or gone elsewhere, amid fears over virus

Private sector hospitals and clinics have seen a huge drop in foreign patients in the past month, as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

Singapore gets on average more than 40,000 foreigners coming here each month for medical care, ranging from aesthetic treatments to those for serious health problems like cancer and heart failure.

With 85 people infected by the coronavirus, Singapore is among the countries with the most cases outside of China. On Feb 7, it raised the outbreak's risk level to orange, the second-highest level.

As a result, a large number of foreigners with appointments here have postponed their treatment or gone elsewhere for it.

Ms Jocelyn Ng, marketing manager of PanAsia Surgery Group, said the group has had "100 per cent cancellation" from foreign patients since the coronavirus outbreak.Foreign patients make up 60 to 70 per cent of its patients in normal times, with Vietnam its largest foreign market.

PanAsia's five doctors at its three outlets "still have big" operations, she said. They also deal with emergency cases from people here.

Dr Noel Yeo, chief executive officer of Mount Elizabeth Hospital, said that the Parkway Pantai group to which it belongs has advised all patients, both local and foreign, to postpone non-essential treatment at its four hospitals here.

He explained: "This is to limit the risk of exposure for all patients, their visitors and loved ones."

But its four hospitals - Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, Mount Elizabeth Novena and Parkway East - are still getting "many patients" who require critical or essential treatment. "They are unable to defer their care or find alternative medical options in their home country," he said. Foreign patients account for a quarter of Parkway's revenue in Singapore.

Dr Yeo added: "For such patients, our hospitals have put in place all necessary precautions to protect their well-being and minimise the risk of infections."

These include more frequent cleaning, and separate nursing teams for "fever" and "clean" wards. It has built a segregated emergency department intake area at the carpark of Mount Elizabeth Hospital to separate those with coronavirus symptoms from other patients.

Dr Beng Teck Liang, chief executive officer of the Singapore Medical Group (SMG), said its clinics too have seen a slowdown in foreign patients, particularly for electives such as dental treatments, health screening and aesthetics.

But he said these non-urgent treatments form "a very small portion of our business".

SMG has 32 clinics offering a wide range of treatments in areas from cancer to gynaecology to paediatric care.

Dr Beng said the drop in patients, particularly from Indonesia and Vietnam, took a hit when Singapore raised the risk to code orange, but numbers have improved.

"Patients are a little cautious about coming unless it's absolutely necessary," he said, but "we are seeing a little bit of a recovery since."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 21, 2020, with the headline 'Private hospitals see big drop in foreign patients'. Print Edition | Subscribe