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Ageing society contributes to hospital bed crunch: Gan

SINGAPORE — With our ageing population, there are now more frail and old people who need hospitalisation, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament yesterday, saying this was one of the factors that contributed to the high bed occupancy rate at public hospitals.

From left: Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Transport) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, a senior citizen living in the west, Senior Minister of State (Health and Manpower) Amy Khor, Speaker of Parliament and Jurong GRC MP Halimah Yacob, Jurong Health Board Chairman Lim Yong Wah, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Government Parliamentary Committee for Health member and Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee and a senior citizen  tossing yusheng at  the topping out ceremony of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital yesterday. 
Photo: Ernest Chua

From left: Parliamentary Secretary (Health and Transport) Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, a senior citizen living in the west, Senior Minister of State (Health and Manpower) Amy Khor, Speaker of Parliament and Jurong GRC MP Halimah Yacob, Jurong Health Board Chairman Lim Yong Wah, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong, Government Parliamentary Committee for Health member and Sembawang GRC MP Ellen Lee and a senior citizen tossing yusheng at the topping out ceremony of Ng Teng Fong General Hospital yesterday.
Photo: Ernest Chua

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SINGAPORE — With our ageing population, there are now more frail and old people who need hospitalisation, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong in Parliament yesterday, saying this was one of the factors that contributed to the high bed occupancy rate at public hospitals.

Mr Gan, who was responding to a question from Sengkang West Member of Parliament (MP) Lam Pin Min on the shortfall of beds in hospitals, said the proportion of patients aged 65 and above admitted to public hospitals rose from 28.6 per cent in 2006 to 33.4 per cent last year.

This group is also staying in hospitals for a longer period — from an average of 7.8 days in 2010 to 8.2 days last year. In contrast, the average length of stay for patients aged 14 and below shrank to 3.4 days in 2013 from 3.7 days in 2010.

“Older patients (tend) to stay longer in hospitals because it takes longer for their condition to stabilise and for them to be eligible for discharge,” said Mr Gan. “With shrinking family sizes and weaker family support over time, family members may not be ready to take the patients home in a timely manner, and this also will result in a longer stay in the hospital.” He made the same point at the topping-up ceremony of the new 700-bed Ng Teng Fong General Hospital earlier yesterday, which is set to open in December.

The hospital bed crunch came under the spotlight after it was reported that hospitals have been setting up temporary bed space and sending patients to other hospitals with higher capacities. The bed occupancy rate stands at 87.2 per cent, higher than the 85.8 per cent a year ago.

While the Ministry of Health is building more hospitals to increase the number of beds, there is also a need to transform the healthcare model because a hospital-centric system is not ideal for the needs of an ageing population, said Mr Gan.

He reiterated the importance of helping the elderly to recuperate in the community and manage their chronic conditions.

Asked by Non-Constituency MP Gerald Giam if hospitals could convert A and B1 class wards to the more affordable C class wards to relieve the crunch, Mr Gan said infrastructure constraints such as whether the plumbing or wiring systems are able to accommodate more beds have to be considered. He added that hospitals can upgrade C class ward patients to B class wards when necessary.

Holland-Bukit Timah GRC MP Liang Eng Hwa asked if the ministry would allow patients to tap subsidies to offset their home nursing costs, which can result in high expenses for families and deter them from earlier hospital discharge.

Mr Gan said the financing for home nursing is one of the areas the ministry is reviewing and some ideas will be presented in a few months’ time. The funding model, he added, would not penalise low-income patients for staying at home — this group could be given higher subsidies and pay less cash up front for their hospital stay.

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