Healthcare: Another review or urgent action!

I refer to the article “Major review to keep health care affordable“, (Straits Times, Dec 28).

Review next year

It states that “The Ministry of Health (MOH) is embarking on a major review next year to ensure that public health care remains accessible and affordable to Singaporeans”.

After all these years of problems, issues and debate on our healthcare system, what we get now is just another major review next year. After the review, how mcuh longer will it take before we really take concrete steps to fix the serious problems in our healthcare system?

Wait 14 months to diagnose?

How do you know that our healthcare system is breaking down? Well, for starters – just read the newspaper foreign pages.

For example, in Margaret Chong’s letter “14-month wait needed before elderly father can be diagnosed” (Straits Times Forum, Dec 29), she said “This will make it some 14 months before his condition can be diagnosed and treated”.

If it takes 14 months for a patient just to be diagnosed in our polyclinic and public hospital system, you know that our healthcare system is not working well.

Lowest public healthcare spending in the world?

As to “The Government announced plans early this year to double yearly health-care spending from $4 billion to $8 billion over the next five years”, five years is a very long time. With last year’s public healthcare spending as a percentage of GDP at about 1.6 per cent, which is one of the lowest in the world – even with the announced gradual increase in spending – after accounting for the expected rise in GDP, the population and inflation, I estimate that our public healthcare GDP spending may remain as amongst the lowest in the world in the next few years too. 

What we may need is to urgently spend more now.

Hospital beds decreased 5% last decade?

As to “They include increasing the number of beds in acute public hospitals by 30 per cent and more than doubling beds in community hospitals by 2020”, according to the Department of Statistics’ Yearbook of Statistics 2012, the total number of hospital beds declined from 11,936 in 2001 to 11,394 in 2011. This is a drop of about five per cent over the last 10 years!

Against this decline, hospital admissions increased by 22 per cent,  from 384,054 to 469,445 in the same period.

Isn’t this in a way, like too late too little – have to wait another eight years to grow the beds in acute public hospitals by 30 per cent. What we need is to know on a year to year basis going forward to 2020, how many more hospital beds there will be?

Public dental care visits decreased 12%?

Public dental healthcare is even worse – with visits to public sector dental clinics declining by about 12 per cent,  from 983,792 to 863,187 in the same period, despite the rise in the population by more than a million.

No wonder people say that public dental healthcare is practically non-existent in Singapore, as one has to make an appointment which is typical months in advance.

Medisave – paying for parents?

Finally, perhaps the most alarming indicator that our healthcare system is failing, is that out of the total amount of Medisave withdrawn for the elderly’s healthcare expenses in last year (2010), about 45% was from their children’s Medisave accounts (Parliamentary reply, Oct, 2011).  What this means is that the current generation is already using up a lot of their Medisave for other generations – in healthcare funding terms, this may be what many countries fear most and try very hard to avoid – that the current generation is paying for older generations and depleting their own healthcare funding in the future.

P. S. You may also like to read “Hospital bill: 42 years instalment plan! ” (Oct 16)

Leong Sze Hian

About the Author

Leong Sze Hian has served as the president of 4 professional bodies, honorary consul of 2 countries, an alumnus of Harvard University, authored 4 books, quoted over 1500 times in the media , has been a radio talkshow host, a newspaper daily columnist, Wharton Fellow, SEACeM Fellow, columnist for theonlinecitizen and Malaysiakini, executive producer of Ilo Ilo (40 international awards), Hotel Mumbai (associate producer), invited to speak more than 200 times in about 40 countries, CIFA advisory board member, founding advisor to the Financial Planning Associations of 2 countries. He has 3 Masters, 2 Bachelors degrees and 13 professional  qualifications.