Coronavirus: MOH tells doctors to stop or defer taking in new foreign patients

Circular points to need to conserve limited healthcare resources here

Tents set up outside the National Centre for Infectious Diseases for temperature taking and screening of patients. Singapore reported its first two deaths from the coronavirus yesterday.
Tents set up outside the National Centre for Infectious Diseases for temperature taking and screening of patients. Singapore reported its first two deaths from the coronavirus yesterday.ST PHOTO: DESMOND FOO

All doctors in public and private hospitals, as well as private specialist clinics, have been advised by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to immediately stop or defer accepting new foreign patients who do not reside in Singapore.

They have also been instructed to encourage their current foreign patients to seek continued care in their home countries.

An internal circular issued by the MOH to private and public healthcare institutions on Thursday, which was seen by The Sunday Times, said it was necessary "to conserve limited healthcare resources for Singapore to cater to managing Covid-19 cases as well as the existing needs of our local patients".

The circular said the latest measures will last until further advised by the MOH. "Failure of the specialist to comply with the above may adversely impact public health and safety, and, therefore, will result in more stringent considerations of subsequent applications by MOH," the circular said.

Dr Noel Yeo, senior vice-president, hospital operations for Parkway Pantai's Singapore operations division, said that non-essential procedures were already mostly postponed after the Republic's Disease Outbreak Response System Condition (Dorscon) level was raised to orange.

However, "there were still a small number of patients who came to us for critical or essential treatment".

"Under MOH's new directive, all new cases of such patients who do not reside in Singapore will be asked to defer their appointments or seek medical care elsewhere. We are working with our doctors to ensure that these patients continue to be cared for as adequately as possible," Dr Yeo added.

Singapore reported its first two deaths from the coronavirus yesterday. Officials confirmed 47 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, bringing the total number of infected patients on the island to 432.

A carpark at the Singapore General Hospital was converted on Friday to help screen patients for fever to help alleviate the load on the National Centre for Infectious Diseases.

The contents of the circular on Thursday provided guidance on the approach doctors should take when managing foreign patients holding Asean passports who are seeking specialist medical care in the country.

The circular added that specialists who feel it is necessary for a foreign patient to remain in Singapore can apply to the MOH for a waiver.

 
 
 
 

To qualify, the patient must have healthcare needs that cannot be met in his home country and be already under the specialist's active care. The specialist must certify that delays in the treatment of the patient will lead to "serious adverse outcomes", the circular said.

Other foreign patients who live in Asean and wish to have continued specialist care in Singapore must apply for the Asean Health Clearance (AHC) prior to their medical appointment.

They must not have visited any hospital outside Singapore 14 days before the application to be eligible for the AHC.

From last Monday, the Government said that the AHC has to be submitted by all short-term visitors who are Asean nationals at least 14 to 21 days before their intended date of travel into Singapore, and should be approved by the MOH before they begin their trip to Singapore.

These approved applications will be verified by the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority at the border.

However, the circular also noted that in some cases of medical emergencies involving the evacuation of Asean passport holders, the requirement for the AHC can be waived.

The MOH had earlier announced that all travellers entering the Republic from 11.59pm on Friday will be issued a 14-day stay-home notice.

Short-term visitors who arrive in the country without the necessary approval, or proof of the place where they will serve their 14-day stay-home notice, or do not meet prevailing entry requirements, will be unable to enter Singapore.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 22, 2020, with the headline 'MOH tells doctors to stop or defer taking in new foreign patients'. Subscribe