Not keen on shared cups? TTSH offers personal utensil pack

Patients can buy Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Convenient Pack — comprising a new cup, saucer, teaspoon and water pitcher — at S$6 each and take it home on discharge. Photo: Tan Tock Seng Hospital
A vending machine that dispenses items ranging from shower gel to dental floss was installed in Tan Tock Seng Hospital last October. Photo: Kenneth Cheng
Published: 4:00 AM, March 21, 2017
Updated: 1:09 PM, March 21, 2017

SINGAPORE — Since last month, all patients admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) have had the option of buying their own set of utensils, after some patients raised concerns over the cleanliness of the shared cups.

Dubbed the “Convenient Pack”, the set, which was piloted in a ward last October, comprises a cup, saucer, teaspoon and water pitcher. It costs S$6.

In response to TODAY’s queries, Mr Yong Keng Kwang, the hospital’s chief nurse, said some patients had voiced their concerns after they saw other patients spit into the cups made available for common use.

Other patients were also seen using them to store items, such as dentures.

The shared cups and water pitchers are sent to the hospital’s central kitchen every morning to be washed and sterilised, as are the utensils that come with a patient’s meal tray, such as spoons and forks, after each use.

While the hospital had given patients this assurance, some were “still uncomfortable, and the same feedback kept surfacing time and again”, Mr Yong added.

This spawned the idea of offering patients a personalised pack, labelled with the patient’s name, during admission.

The brainchild of the hospital’s nurses and health attendants, the set belongs to the patient, who can take it home upon their discharge. Patients do not have to buy the pack if they have no qualms about using the common cups and pitchers.

Other public hospitals that replied to TODAY’s queries said they do not extend such an option to patients.

A spokesperson for the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) said it had not received patient feedback on the hygiene of common cutlery and cups.

It adheres to a “stringent cleaning process” that includes loading utensils into a dishwasher pre-set to a recommended temperature for “washing, disinfecting and drying”.

Mr Yong said feedback to the TTSH initiative has been “very good”, and patients who used the pack perceived greater levels of hygiene.

Nurses also observed that, in small ways, having their own cups and pitchers has encouraged patients to be more mobile and independent.

Rather than requesting the nurses’ help, they have been proactive in washing their own cups and refilling their pitchers.

If patients are unable to do so themselves, the hospital employees would step in to help, he added.

Patient Lai Jun Hao, 25, believed it was “more hygienic” to use his own water pitcher, which also allows him to keep tabs on his water intake. He will fill it up himself “when I’m able to”, he told TODAY last week.

Another patient, Mr Teo Kim Seng, 62, said he preferred a set for his own use, as the shared cups are washed and circulated among other patients.

“I can use it at home too ... (and keep it) as a memento,” the former hairdresser quipped in Mandarin. However, given the high medical costs, his wife, Madam Shelly Tjhia, 47, would have second thoughts: “A little money is still money.”

Madam Jojo Gwee’s 72-year-old mother was admitted to TTSH earlier this month.

The 51-year-old therapist said she was willing to buy the pack if her mother “really needs” it, but noted that she could also bring her own from home.

Madam Candy Tan, whose 79-year-old mother was hospitalised in January, said she would buy a set for her dependant for hygiene reasons. “(The common set) has been used by so many people. We don’t know how they clean it,” she added.

Meanwhile, in an effort to increase convenience for patients, the hospital also introduced in October last year a vending machine that dispenses toiletries.

The items on offer at the machine, located near the lift lobby on Level 11, range from a toothbrush (S$1) and dental floss (S$3.50) to shower gel (S$2) and facial wash (S$4.20).