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Parliament Highlights – 1 April 2019

01 Apr 2019 4 min read

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Guidelines to protect patients and support the medical community

The Ministry of Health has plans to issue legally binding clinical practice guidance in specific areas to protect patients’ interests and support the medical community.

In his ministerial statement in Parliament on 1 April 2019, Minister Gan Kim Yong said that the Ministry will be engaging the medical community and public before issuing the guidance, in particular pertaining to informed consent.

“There is uncertainty and concern among doctors as to exactly what information would be considered to be relevant and material from the patient’s perspective, and when and how consent needs to be taken,” Mr Gan said.

Mr Gan also explained that in view of the risk of medical practitioners adopting defensive practices which would be detrimental to Singapore’s healthcare system, the guide aims to give healthcare professionals more certainty on aligning their practices with the rest of the healthcare community and discharging their ethical and legal obligations to their patients.

“The intent is to provide the medical community with clear practical guidelines so that doctors do not have to second guess what is needed in each case,” said Mr Gan.

Separately, Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong said that the Health Ministry and its agencies including the Health Sciences Authority will review its policies and processes for managing data. A Board Committee was set up by HSA to review its processes and recommend appropriate measures. Life-cycle management of the data managed by existing IT vendors will also be reviewed.

“The measures to be taken to prevent a similar occurrence will be shaped by what specific findings arise from the ongoing investigations into the incident,” said Mr Tong.

Commenting on the data breach of blood donors recently, Mr Tong said investigations are continuing and an update will be provided when available. In addition, the Ministry together with its agencies will cooperate with the public sector data security review committee.

Enhanced protection for victims of harassment

The Ministry of Law has proposed changes to the Protection from Harassment Act (POHA) in a bid to increase protection for victims of harassment and falsehoods, and to make it easier for victims to seek recourse.

The act of “doxxing” – which involves the publishing of someone’s personal information such as their photos, contact numbers or employment details with the intention to harass – will be criminalised under the proposed amendments.

In a statement, the Law Ministry said it has seen an increasing trend of such acts, particularly in the context of online vigilantism.

As part of the amendments, a new Protection from Harassment Courts (PHC) will also be set up to provide one-stop solution for victims to receive holistic and effective relief. The new court will be a specialised court with oversight over all criminal and civil matters under POHA.

Working with tech companies to fight online falsehoods

Minister for Communications and Information Mr S Iswaran said both the Government and technology companies will have to learn to work together to ensure the objectives of the Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill are met.

Mr Iswaran pointed out that the regulation of online falsehoods is a new domain for both parties. Moving forward, he explained that the Government will engage the companies throughout the process of looking at deliberate online falsehoods and coming up with the legislation.

“We regard them as partners, not adversaries. We want to work with them, because we have a common interest in ensuring these platforms are trustworthy and reliable,” Mr Iswaran added.

The Protection from Online Falsehoods and Manipulation Bill was tabled in Parliament on 1 April 2019.

PUB’s key interest: Safeguarding Singapore’s water security

National water agency PUB will take actions to ensure Singapore’s water security will not be compromised and that the water supply is able to meet the needs of Singaporeans, emphasised Minister for the Environment and Water Resources Masagos Zulkifli.

“This is to ensure that a critical asset remains in safe hands and avoids uncertainty over the operations of the desalination plant,” elaborated Mr Masagos in Parliament on 1 April 2019.

Stressing that PUB’s actions do not weaken either TPL or Hyflux, and do not disadvantage those who have invested in Hyflux, Mr Masagos pointed out that if PUB terminates the Water Purchase Agreement, it would ease the pressure on the rest of the Hyflux Group and positively impact the value of the Hyflux shares being offered.

Responding to questions on Hyflux and Singapore’s water supply, Mr Masagos said Tuaspring Pte Ltd (TPL), a wholly owned subsidiary of Hyflux, has been experiencing difficulties fulfilling its contractual obligations since 2017.

He said TPL failed to keep the desalination plant reliably operational and was unable to produce financial evidence to demonstrate its ability to keep the plant running for the next six months. As such, PUB issued TPL with a default notice on 5 March 2019. If TPL fails to do so, PUB will terminate the Water Purchase Agreement and take over the desalination plant, he added.

Reiterating that water security is integral to Singapore’s national security and that PUB’s recent actions reinforce it, he said Singaporeans should not dismiss the existing Public-Private Partnership model (PPP). That model has been useful in allowing Singapore to tap on private sector innovations and cost efficiencies to deliver water services more effectively, he said.

Under the PPP model, the Government partners the private sector to design, build, own and operate some of Singapore’s desalination and NEWater plants. Currently, Singapore has five NEWater plants and three desalination plants. Out of these, three NEWater plants and two desalination plants are based on the PPP model, said Mr Masagos.

Lowest number of local PMETs retrenched in 2018

Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo in Parliament said that 5,400 local professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) were retrenched in 2018 – the lowest in four years.

A total of 34,000 local PMETs were employed, and the long-term unemployment rate for local PMETs remained a low 0.8%. PMETs who were laid off last year were in sectors undergoing restructuring.

“Nonetheless, there are PMET segments we are monitoring closely, such as mature PMET jobseekers as well as those who are long-term unemployed. Such groups receive more training or wage support under Adapt and Grow programmes,” said Mrs Teo.

Mrs Teo added that companies have to inform the Taskforce for Responsible Retrenchment and Employment Facilitation when they lay of at least 10 workers, and are retrenching five or more employees in any six-month period. This taskforce will than help affected workers find new jobs.

She also said the Adapt and Grow initiative also helps workers access good jobs, with 17,000 PMETs placed in jobs last year.