Singapore hospitals coping well, prepared for any surge in Covid-19 cases

Most hospitals have resumed business as usual, with all wards open and staff encouraged to take leave. ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

SINGAPORE - Hospitals here are coping well in spite of the Omicron wave infecting thousands of people daily. Most have resumed business as usual, with all wards open and staff encouraged to take leave.

This is largely because the illness caused by this Covid-19 variant is generally mild, with 99.7 per cent of people having few or even no symptoms.

Ministry of Health data shows that while more than 600 people with Covid-19 are in hospital, only 10 are in the intensive care unit and 46 require oxygen.

A National University Health System (NUHS) spokesman said: "The majority of Covid-19 cases are currently managed in the community, and we will maintain a good bed occupancy rate by referring stable patients to home recovery."

Professor Fong Kok Yong, SingHealth's deputy group chief executive officer, said there are no disruptions to operations at its hospitals - Singapore General Hospital, Changi General Hospital, KK Women's and Children's Hospital and Sengkang General Hospital - even though emergency departments are seeing a gradual increase in respiratory illness and suspected Covid-19 cases.

Changi General Hospital has the busiest emergency department in Singapore, with 2,543 patients in the week ended Jan 22, slightly higher than the previous week's 2,497 patients seeking emergency care.

Nevertheless, Prof Fong said, staff are still allowed to take leave, including overseas leave. This is rostered to ensure adequate staffing at the hospitals.

At the National Healthcare Group, all services have resumed at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, and bed occupancy is similar to that of pre-Covid days.

But the smaller Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) is running at nearly full capacity. It is the hospital with the second-highest emergency department attendance, with 2,249 patients seeking emergency care last week.

The KTPH spokesman said: "The current wave has not had a major impact on our staffing. None of our services or wards has had to close due to manpower constraints."

But because its wards are near capacity, the hospital continues to defer patients with non-urgent elective procedures and has increased teleconsultations.

All three public health clusters said staff are encouraged to take leave to rest, recharge and spend time with their families, although some have asked employees on leave to remain contactable in case of a sudden surge.

The exception is KTPH, which said it has requested staff who have yet to apply for leave to defer it if possible until after the Omicron wave subsides.

To prevent Covid-19 from spreading among staff, of whom 99.9 per cent are vaccinated, SingHealth has split-team arrangements with small teams to mitigate any potential viral spread.

The NUHS spokesman said that support is given to staff "through provision of meals, refreshments or care packs, and alternative short-term accommodation for those who prefer not to go home to minimise risk exposure to their kin".

Its staff now do antigen rapid tests at least twice a week "to detect infection early and prevent transmission within the hospitals". The spokesman added that inpatients are tested regularly for Covid-19, and in selected wards, they are tested three times weekly.

All the hospitals say they are prepared for any potential surge in patients.

The NUHS spokesman said: "We have set aside existing beds that can potentially be converted to isolation beds for Covid-19 cases, as well as more holding facilities for suspect cases pending their results.

"There are also dedicated facilities and manpower to support the care of Covid-19 patients."

The spokesman said its senior management is aware of the importance of good communication, so they "continually engage staff to provide clarity and direction for the changing situations".

They also "ensure adequate support by making changes and adapting workflows with flexibility in manpower deployment to reduce staff burnout while meeting operational and safety requirements".

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