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Gan to focus on three key health areas

  Tuesday, 31 l 05 l 2011  Source: The Straits Times   
By:Melissa Pang

Infrastructure, cost and ageing policies may be refined

HEALTH minister Gan Kim Yong identified three key areas that he will be looking into, in the first blog entry yesterday in his new portfolio. The three areas are: ensuring health-care infrastructure keeps up with short- and long-term needs, the cost of health care and health-care issues relating to the ageing population. On the first issue, he said it was necessary to take stock of demographic trends, adding: “We will need to plan ahead not only in terms of physical capacity but also human resource development, to ensure sufficient supply of health-care professionals and workers.”

healthcare-key-areasThe perennial hot-button topic of health-care cost was also identified as needing “particular attention”. Mr Gan said in the post, titled “Getting started on unfinished business”, that it was “understandable” that many Singaporeans were concerned about rising health-care costs and highlighted the groups that needed the most help. “The problem is especially real for retirees with limited cash savings and middle-income families with elderly parents and sick children to look after,” he said. To tackle this, he explained, a review of the existing funding framework and the various financial assistance schemes is needed.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) will also make the “necessary adjustments” to ensure these programmes “remain appropriate and effective in helping Singaporeans cope with health-care costs and yet prevent wastage or abuse”. The third area needed “urgent attention” he said, because of Singapore’s rapidly ageing population. Intermediate and long-term care, and end-of-life issues are among the issues. He said: “It goes beyond health care and includes active ageing to help our seniors lead a meaningful life.” He added: “While some fine-tuning can be implemented in the short term, other major policy shifts may require careful analysis and planning to ensure we achieve the desired outcomes without compromising the fundamentals. “I will consult widely, look out for the blind spots and extract good ideas for policy refinement.”

He also shared his thoughts on a visit to Pasir Ris Polyclinic yesterday morning, and said the extension of the Primary Care Partnership Scheme to cover low-income groups is “worth looking into”, as it would cut down on waiting time. The scheme allows needy patients to receive subsidised treatment from general practitioners (GPs) and dentists near their homes. There are now about 200 GP clinics on the scheme.

Last year, 32,000 eligible patients made more than 70,000 visits under the scheme. Mr Gan appears to be following in the footsteps of his predecessor, Mr Khaw Boon Wan, who is now overseeing the Ministry of National Development. Mr Khaw had written about “unfinished business” in his last blog entry as Health Minister. In that post, he counted the transformation of the longterm care sector, Elder- Shield Reform, the third medical school, and expansion of polyclinics, as issues that he had planned on carrying on, had he remained at the ministry.

Mr Gan said he has spent the last few days “spending my time understanding the overall landscape of health-care services in Singapore” and “the various policy healthcare framework”. Paying tribute to Mr Khaw, he said: “My first impression is that Minister Khaw has done a great job to improve the health-care framework... The quality of health care in Singapore is something we can all be proud of.” The new Health Minister added that over the next few weeks, he will be visiting more health-care institutions and meeting the industry’s various stakeholders.

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