My Future SG contest: Consolation prize

WINNING THOUGHTS: Free healthcare is not ideal

Ms Eunice Wong is studying pharmacy in Britain.
Ms Eunice Wong is studying pharmacy in Britain.PHOTO: COURTESY OF EUNICE WONG

Pharmacy student Eunice Wong believes that redefining the roles of pharmacists here is crucial to improving healthcare services.

The 23-year-old, who is in her fourth year at University College London, wrote in to the "My Future SG" contest to discuss what she had learnt during her placements in Britain's healthcare system.

Said Ms Wong in an interview: "In the UK, pharmacists have greater responsibilities and are able to prescribe certain medicines. At present, if I am not wrong, pharmacists in Singapore are not able to do that yet."

She said her Singaporean friends had scoffed at her when she took up a Ministry of Health scholarship to study pharmacy. "Their impression of a pharmacist was that of one who sat behind a desk at the polyclinics and dispensed medicine.

"Honestly, I was really offended. After being in London, it is obvious that people in the UK respect pharmacists a lot more .

"Most of the time, pharmacists are the first healthcare professionals people there will consult if they are feeling unwell - especially if it's just a minor ailment. This frees up the doctors to focus on patients that have more major ailments."

In her contest submission, she wrote that her experience with Britain's National Health Service (NHS) has led her to conclude that free healthcare is not ideal.

She wrote: "It makes people selfish and inconsiderate, taking even their health for granted."

In the interview, she said under the NHS, queues are especially long and doctors are also more hesitant about prescribing medicine. "People go to the doctors for all sorts of random reasons, taking up time and resources that could have been devoted to more genuine cases."

Ms Wong, who will return at the end of her studies to work at the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, said: "I appreciate that the healthcare (system) in Singapore considers our ability to afford, catering for the poorer population with subsidies. This allows everyone to have equal access to healthcare without overtaxing the working population."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 28, 2015, with the headline 'Free healthcare is not ideal'. Subscribe