Coronavirus: Singapore has sufficient healthcare facilities

A screening area in a multi-storey carpark at Singapore General Hospital. Public hospitals have been reducing non-urgent operations and treatments since January to free up capacity for a possible spike in virus patients.
A screening area in a multi-storey carpark at Singapore General Hospital. Public hospitals have been reducing non-urgent operations and treatments since January to free up capacity for a possible spike in virus patients.ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Contingency plans, such as using quarantine facilities for mild cases, in place: Minister

Singapore has sufficient healthcare facilities and workers to cope with the current number of Covid-19 patients.

However, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said there are contingency plans should the number of patients rise.

As of yesterday, there were 254 Covid-19 patients in hospital, of whom 16 were in a critical condition needing intensive care.

One option, he said, is to use quarantine facilities for patients who have very mild symptoms and do not require medical care.

These facilities can also be used for patients who would normally have been discharged, but are being kept under observation to make sure that they are no longer shedding the virus.

"We are in the process of getting these facilities ready," he said. "We do not need this capacity yet, but it's better to put them in place ahead of time."

For patients who do need medical care, Mr Gan said public hospitals have wards that can be converted to handle Covid-19 patients. This is part of Singapore's emergency response plans.

They have not been converted yet, he said, as there is currently no need for this additional capacity.

Associate Professor Kenneth Mak, the director of medical services at the Ministry of Health (MOH), said some preparations are under way to open up additional isolation rooms and wards, as well as intensive care unit beds "to allow us to have sufficient capacity and capability if the time comes when we have to cater to increased numbers of Covid-19 cases".

 
 
 
 

He added that the ministry is also looking at redeploying manpower "from one part of the healthcare system to another, just to make sure we have adequate support staff ready".

All public hospitals have also been reducing the number of non-urgent operations and other treatments since January to free up capacity for a possible surge in Covid-19 patients.

Prof Mak added that the MOH is also exploring working with the private healthcare sector. There is already a good relationship between the public and private sectors with past collaborations, he said.

The Straits Times understands that MOH officials had gone to Parkway East Hospital earlier this week to check if the facilities there can be used at a pinch.

But the ward they looked at was next to a maternity ward, which raised concerns with obstetricians at the hospital that pregnant mothers may be put at risk.

Mr Gan appealed to people to take social distancing seriously in order to minimise the spread of the virus within the country.

He said: "Help us keep the number (of Covid-19 patients) to as few as possible, and this will help us manage."

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 21, 2020, with the headline 'S'pore has sufficient healthcare facilities'. Print Edition | Subscribe