Officers from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) have the powers to obtain the personal identification of unconscious patients as well as use force when necessary to carry out rescue operations under changes to the law approved by Parliament yesterday.
Under changes proposed by the Civil Defence and Other Matters Bill, officers can obtain the fingerprints or personal information of an unconscious person in a medical emergency. This will allow SCDF Emergency Medical Services (EMS) to identify patients and get relevant health information from the Ministry of Health (MOH) to administer appropriate and timely treatment, said Second Minister for Home Affairs Josephine Teo.
Mrs Teo said that of the 165,000 EMS patients the SCDF attended to last year, it was unable to identify about 8 per cent, or 14,000 of them. Typically, these patients were unconscious or unresponsive and did not have identification documents.
The changes will let SCDF officers gather more information to treat a patient according to his specific medical history, she said.
"They can also share the patient's identity with the hospital so that preparations can already be made at the emergency department even while the patient is being conveyed there by SCDF," she added.
To safeguard this personal information, the Ministry of Home Affairs will work with MOH to grant authorised personnel access strictly on a need-to-know basis.
To prevent misuse, security safeguards and clear guidelines will be developed as well, said Mrs Teo. There will also be penalties imposed for any misuse.
The amendments will also give SCDF officers more powers and protection to carry out emergency and rescue operations. Officers will have explicit legal powers to carry out operations such as those that require forceful entry into private premises, to protect lives and prevent injury and harm.
LEGAL PROTECTION WHILE CARRYING OUT THEIR JOB
SCDF officers ought to be allowed to focus on the job at hand, on saving lives, without being distracted by concerns about whether they may be charged or sued for damage caused while performing their duties.
SECOND MINISTER FOR HOME AFFAIRS JOSEPHINE TEO
Previously, SCDF officers relied on the common law to justify such actions when responding to emergency and rescue operations.
The changes, among other things, will also grant officers legal protection during operations.
Previously, officers did not have statutory protection from legal liability in operations that sometimes involved calculated risks, like cutting open vehicles to rescue trapped victims.
"This is not ideal. SCDF officers ought to be allowed to focus on the job at hand, on saving lives, without being distracted by concerns about whether they may be charged or sued for damage caused while performing their duties," said Mrs Teo.
Given the enhanced powers and protections granted to SCDF officers, there is a need to deter abuse by impersonators. The changes will make it an offence for anyone to impersonate an SCDF officer, and this carries a maximum penalty of a $2,500 fine and six months in jail.
During the debate on the Bill, Mr Melvin Yong (Tanjong Pagar GRC) asked for details on how officers would obtain patients' information.
Mrs Teo said SCDF ambulance crew would have a mobile device to scan the patient's fingerprint and check it remotely against the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority's database. If there is a match, relevant information from the National Electronic Health Record system can be retrieved using the patient's NRIC or FIN number.