Proposed changes to Healthcare Services Act aimed at enhancing safe patient care

MOH said it had noted several areas for enhancement following extensive discussions with various stakeholders. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

SINGAPORE - Unregistered healthcare professionals who use the title "doctor" in their promotional materials may in the future need to make clear what their credentials are, so as to avoid misleading the public.

This is part of a series of proposed amendments to the Healthcare Services Act (HCSA), aimed at better regulating such services and providing greater transparency in the advertising of these services, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said on Wednesday.

The HCSA - which was passed in 2020 to replace the existing Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act - aims to strengthen regulations across various healthcare services to ensure continued delivery of safe care to patients.

The Act is being implemented progressively in three phases, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2023 when the earlier Act is repealed.

MOH said it had noted several areas for enhancement following extensive discussions with various stakeholders over the past two years.

Under the proposed amendments, businesses not licensed under the HCSA cannot claim to treat medical conditions or diseases when advertising healthcare services.

In addition, companies licensed under the Act will not be allowed to use terms associated with medical specialities in their names if they do not employ such specialists.

For example, a clinic that does not have a neurologist cannot be called a "neurology clinic", the ministry said.

Other amendments include the introduction of an approval regime for the delivery of specified services - for example, the provision of imaging modalities such as ultrasound and X-rays for radiologists - as well as the appointment of clinical governance officers.

The scope of employee background screening will also be refined according to "the degree of risk to patients' safety and welfare", said MOH.

As part of this move, the Institute of Mental Health will be required to perform background screening on prospective employees who provide direct patient care, while nursing homes and hospices will be required to screen all prospective employees.

Another amendment will allow MOH to remove the two-week notice prior to modification of licence conditions in special circumstances where there is imminent harm to patient safety.

The ministry noted this would include situations such as requiring licensees to implement screening requirements for patients and caregivers to stem the spread of Covid-19, for example.

"Under the proposed amendments, patients will benefit from the delivery of healthcare services by licensees under a robust regulatory regime, and from greater clarity and transparency in healthcare services advertising and modes of service delivery," MOH said.

The ministry is seeking feedback regarding these prospective amendments - which are expected to kick in from June 2023 - from the public, existing licensees under the Act, as well as healthcare providers who may take up HCSA licences in the future.

Between Oct 12 and Nov 11, the public can visit the HCSA website to provide their views on the proposed changes.

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