Schemes that keep elderly people well at home to be scaled up

Volunteer Joanna Fang checking on medication for Mr Low Buck Chua, 76, and his wife Dolly, 76, in February 2015.
Volunteer Joanna Fang checking on medication for Mr Low Buck Chua, 76, and his wife Dolly, 76, in February 2015.PHOTO: ST FILE

SINGAPORE - More patients will soon benefit from out-of-hospital care, with the expansion of two health programmes.

A scheme that provides elderly people with post-discharge care to reduce their chances of getting hospitalised again will be scaled up from the current base of 3,000 patients to 5,000 by the end of the year.

Another initiative, where trained volunteers in the community keep an eye on elderly residents living near them in 18 neighbourhoods, will be widened to cover more neighbourhoods. This follows the integration of SingHealth and Eastern Health Alliance healthcare clusters, said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor. The move brings hospitals such as Singapore General Hospital (SGH) and Changi General Hospital (CGH) under one group.

The merger of SingHealth and Eastern Health Alliance is part of a larger regrouping of Singapore's six regional health systems into three integrated clusters that is due to be completed early this year. The National Healthcare Group (NHG) and Alexandra Health System will merge, as will the National University Health System and Jurong Health Services.

The Health Ministry has said that the new entities can tap the combined strengths of the original clusters. This will allow for services to be scaled up in the expanded cluster, so residents in a wider area can benefit from them.

Speaking at the SingHealth Integrated Care Symposium on Wednesday (Jan 10) held at the Academia in Outram Park, Dr Khor highlighted the need to "provide a smooth and holistic experience for patients" when integrating care from various care providers such as those from primary care, acute care, intermediate and long-term care, or in the social sector.

She noted that the two schemes to be expanded have seen positive results.

The post-discharge care programme, called Communities of Care, has helped 3,000 elderly residents in Chinatown, Tiong Bahru, Bukit Merah, Katong and Telok Blangah stay out of hospital since its launch in April last year. The patients were identified by a care team at SGH to have complex medical conditions and require close monitoring. They may also face social issues, such as loneliness, lack of caregiver support and financial difficulties.

Under the programme, they receive home visits and calls from the care team. The team also works with social organisations such as NTUC Health, Tsao Foundation and Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities to devise a care plan for each patient. This can include support services such as home and day care, psychosocial support, financial assistance, interim caregiving, and meals-on-wheels.


“If the expansion works, we are going to extend Communities of Care to CGH and Sengkang General Hospital by next year,” said Associate Professor Lee Kheng Hock, director of the Office of Integrated Care at SGH. “Eventually, the whole SingHealth cluster will have the programme.”

The other programme, Neighbours for Active Living, has helped reduce hospitalisations and duration of hospital stays for residents in the eastern part of Singapore. This is done by having volunteers check on elderly residents and they will alert the hospital if they spot any health issues.

It was started by the Eastern Health Alliance and South East Community Development Council.

"The close coordination between the care team and volunteers has halved the overall number of hospital admissions among residents with various conditions in the programme over a six-month period," said Dr Khor. "The average length of hospital stay has also reduced from about seven days to four days."

The three-day SingHealth Integrated Care Symposium gathers 680 people from Singapore health institutions to exchange ideas on how to shift the focus of healthcare beyond the hospital to the community. About 450 people attended the symposium on the first day on Wednesday. 

The venue of the symposium, the Academia, houses SGH’s pathology services, as well as SingHealth’s research laboratories, and education and training facilities.