Looking Like A War Zone

Speaking at the Singapore Anglican Community Services 100th Anniversary Charity Gala Dinner in Dec 2013, Lee Hsien Loong made the dubious claim that more social spending does not mean better results. As an example, he pointed out that the Americans spend more on healthcare than anybody else in the world, 18% of GDP. Singapore budgets only a minuscule 4% of our GDP for healthcare, and our life expectancy is longer and infant mortality rates are lower. The difference is that the cost of staying alive here is depleting our own savings intended for retirement needs. Unlike in America, there’s no social security here.

“It is the results which count, not how much you spend, not how much the government takes onto itself,” he boasted. One result of that parsimonious attitude towards healthcare spending is that we now have a shortage of hospital beds, with patients ending up in corridors or tented facilities associated with disaster relief zones.

Changi General Hospital (CGH) started housing patients waiting for beds in a large make shift air-conditioned tent this week. Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) has been forced to set up 49 beds along the corridors of its wards to cope with the shortage. Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) resorted to sending patients to Alexandra Hospital, one of the few public hospitals with spare beds.

Chief executive Loh of Mount Elizabeth Novena explained that private hospitals usually aim for occupancy rates of 70 to 75 percent. If occupancy rates cross 80 percent, “it means on that on peak days they could cross 100 percent and our responsiveness will be affected.” For private hospitals, Loh said, that is not acceptable. The picture is obviously quite different at our public hospitals. TTSH, CGH and KTPH all experienced more than 92 percent bed occupancy last week. At the National University Hospital (NUH), the occupancy rate was already 80 percent. Squeezed out of public housing, transportation, educational institutions and work place, we are now also squeezed out of hospital wards. Has the target 6.9 million population been breached?

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong claims to have seen the growing demand for hospital care some years ago – suggesting he has been sitting on the problem for quite some time – and that the Government has (finally) begun building more hospitals. In the meantime, “we are actively working to tackle the current crunch in a few hospitals,” he said. Foresight is obviously not the forte of this bunch of clowns.

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