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KKH, SGH, NUH to use only cheaper infant milk formulas from July 1

SINGAPORE — In the latest move to counter high infant formula milk prices in Singapore, all three public hospitals here offering maternity services will carry only two ready-to-feed (RTF) brands that are more affordable, starting next July.

KKH, SGH, NUH to use only cheaper infant milk formulas from July 1

Senior Minister of State Dr Amy Khor interacting with new parents, Ms Nabilla Hashim and Mr Fadli Bohari, on Friday, Dec 29, 2017. Photo: Wong Pei Ting/TODAY

SINGAPORE — In the latest move to counter high infant formula milk prices in Singapore, all three public hospitals here offering maternity services will carry only two ready-to-feed (RTF) brands that are more affordable, starting next July.

KK Womens’ and Children’s Hospital (KKH), Singapore General Hospital (SGH), and National University Hospital will switch to Nestle’s Lactogen and Danone’s Dulac exclusively. Currently, SGH switches brands monthly, among Nestle Nan, Friso, Wyeth S-26, Abbott Similac, Dumex Mamil Gold, and Enfamil, for instance. It charges S$1 per feed, regardless of brand.

Announcing the move on Friday (Dec 29), Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said few parents switch infant formula brands when their newborns are discharged from hospital. But the brands being used in hospitals “are the more expensive brands”.

“What we hope is that parents will be able to have access to more affordable infant milk, prevent lock-in to more expensive brands because we take into account the total expenditure of the infant formula (till the child is one), not just when it is in use in hospitals,” she told the media, after a visit to the labour and maternity wards at SGH.

In a Facebook post later in the day, Dr Khor said the bulk procurement system would be reviewed after the one-year contract ending June 30, 2019.

According to an occasional paper published by the Competition Commission of Singapore in May, Nestle’s Lactogen retails at S$39.60 for 1.8kg while Danone’s Dulac retails for S$19.90 for 800g -- about one-third the cost of the priciest brands in the market.

Dr Khor reiterated that breastmilk is still the best form of nutrition for babies before they turn 1. She pointed out that the proportion of newborns at public hospitals here who are exclusively breastfed has risen from 76 per cent in 2013, to 86 per cent in 2016.

But all infant formula milk sold in Singapore, regardless of price, provide adequate nutrition for infants to grow healthily, she added.

The move by the three hospitals follows a public outcry to news in May that infant formula milk prices in Singapore are among the highest in the world. SingHealth, which manages KKH and SGH, will do the procurement.

An inquiry by the competition watchdog also found that private hospitals here allowed certain brands to be used for a longer period in their milk rotation system if the manufacturer provided better sponsorship support to the hospital or paid “rotation fees”.

The sponsorships have covered the costs of the hospitals’ conference and training courses, shuttle bus services, printing of brochures, as well as their corporate dinner and dance functions, the competition watchdog had said.

Following that, the Government set up a taskforce to address the issue, while the major supermarket chains here stocked new and more affordable brands. In November, it was also announced that regulatory changes will be made to the health claims and images that can be used on infant formula milk labels.

Dr Khor said the private hospitals are strongly encouraged to make more affordable RTF brands available as well.

RTF formulas are commonly adopted by mothers who are unable to breastfeed post-delivery as they might have suffered cardiac conditions, renal failure, or delivered their babies prematurely, said Associate Professor Tan Hak Koon, head and senior consultant at the SGH’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

Dr Chua Mei Chien, head and senior consultant at KKH’s Department of Neonatology, said: “The RTF formula procured meet all the safety standards and nutritional requirements of Singapore’s Food Regulations. This provides our patients with the assurance of the quality of formula milk used and, at the same time, offers better value.”

Most private hospitals approached by TODAY have no plans to change the RTF brands they are presently using. Raffles Hospital said it would “look into aligning with the public hospitals”.

Thomson Medical, Mount Alvenia Hospital and the hospitals under Parkway Pantai each rotate among six major milk brands throughout the year, including Abbott, Danone Dumex, FrieslandCampina, Friso, Mead Johnson, Nestle and Wyeth.

Spokespersons from Thomson Medical and Mount Alvernia said breastfeeding remains their primary recommendation to maternity patients.

To help mothers with difficulties breast-feeding, Mount Alvernia Hospital offers one-on-one coaching by lactation consultants and breastfeeding workshops.

Expectant mothers and parents said they are more concerned about whether the brands used are suitable for their kids.

Civil servant Teo Ee Hong, 39, who is expecting a baby girl in March, said he had stuck with the brands the hospital provided for his children aged 11 and 5. But his seven-year-old daughter stopped consuming the S-26 formula due to an allergy.

Mr Teo called the public hospitals’ move to use more affordable RTF formulas a “good step ahead”.

Bank receptionist Nabilla Hashim, 29, who gave birth to a girl two days ago, has used RTF formula twice so far but said she is trying her best to breastfeed her baby. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KELLY NG

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