Singapore's first medical clinic for intellectually disabled opens

Dr Edwin Lim (left) and Dr Balbir Singh (centre) show President Halimah a "health passport" issued to patients at the clinic that contains detailed medical records that general practitioners can refer to.
Dr Edwin Lim (left) and Dr Balbir Singh (centre) show President Halimah a "health passport" issued to patients at the clinic that contains detailed medical records that general practitioners can refer to. ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.
The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds.ST PHOTO: LIN ZHAOWEI

SINGAPORE - It is not only 61-year-old retiree Mr Harold Tan who struggles when he has to take his intellectually disabled daughter Dawn to the polyclinic.

Doctors are also ill-equipped to communicate with the 22-year-old and can find it difficult to understand what is causing her discomfort.

Because people with intellectual disabilities are less able to articulate themselves, their health problems can end up being treated poorly or even go undiagnosed.

The Movement for the Intellectually Disabled of Singapore (Minds) Developmental Disabilities Medical Clinic was opened officially on Wednesday (March 21).

The first clinic of its kind in Singapore, it offers specialised medical attention and pre-assessments and has helped 100 people with intellectual disabilities since its soft launch last July.

"This clinic has been a godsend for my family," said Mr Tan, a full-time carer for his daughter who has a severe case of global development delay, which causes lower intellectual functioning and means she has no independent living skills.

"The doctor has the personality, the patience and experience to work with Dawn."

The clinic promotes preventative healthcare using standard health screenings and examinations. Volunteer doctors who are experienced in working with the intellectually disabled are also better able to comprehend and evaluate their conditions.

Each client receives a health booklet profiling their medical history, needs and other relevant information.

The clinic does not prescribe medication. Instead, doctors at Minds will provide referrals to polyclinics on an appointment basis.

This reduces waiting and consultation time while enhancing the efficiency and quality of the healthcare services they receive.

The clinic's services are free for the 2,400 intellectually disabled students and clients under Minds. There are plans to open services to intellectually disabled members of the public.

OCBC bank donated $50,000 towards setting up the clinic and has pledged further support.

One of the clinic's three founders is Dr Bhavani Sriram, vice-president of the Asia Pacific Down Syndrome Federation.

She has worked with children with intellectual disabilities as a paediatrician at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, where she realised a lack of healthcare services for them after they became adults.

She is currently the only volunteer doctor at the new clinic, though more volunteer medical practitioners will be enlisted via partnerships, such as one with Ngee Ann Polytechnic School of Health Sciences, to provide eye screening, hearing tests and dental checks.

Minds, a non-profit organisation that works with the intellectually disabled, hopes to gather more volunteers and donations to expand its services.

The clinic is located in the Kembangan-Chai Chee Community Hub, within the Minds Eunos Training and Development Centre.

Gracing the opening of the clinic on World Down Syndrome Day on Wednesday was President Halimah Yacob.

"Persons with intellectual disabilities usually are quite daunted when they visit polyclinics, because the environment is very different," she said. "But here in a safe environment, I think it is much easier for them to come and get treatment."

Mr Tan hopes more can be done for the intellectually disabled in Singapore.

"Referrals to specialist doctors will still mean expensive fees," he said. "I hope that the referral can also act as a subsidy for us."

To get involved with this cause, go to www.minds.org.sg/Involved