Healthcare's new approach
PUBLISHED ON 30 May 2016

PPF dialogue on healthcare also throws up ideas, ranging from integrating TCM with Western medical practices to taxes on unhealthy food.

The message from Health Minister Gan Kim Yong was clear. We need to think "beyond hospital to community, beyond quality to value and beyond healthcare to health" in our approach to healthcare.

"While we address citizens' concerns on healthcare accessibility, quality and affordability, we also need to consider our system's future long-term sustainability," pointed out Mr Gan at a dialogue organised by the PAP Policy Forum (PPF) on April 30 at Party headquarters.

The dialogue continues our conversation from the 2015 Party Convention on the future of Singapore. "Healthcare and Our Ageing Population" was the first in a series of four "Our Way Forward SG100" dialogues on topics shaping Singapore's future policies.

To prepare participants, a hyperlink to the Singapore Healthcare Masterplan 2020 was included in the email invitation. Within a few weeks, about 165 comrades had registered to attend.

Mr Gan kicked off the dialogue by briefing participants about the "Towards Better Health, Better Care and Better Life" action plan. He also highlighted our "war against diabetes", a disease which costs Singapore $1 billion a year in 2010. Action plans to prevent it (encouraging healthy lifestyles), screening (facilitating early screening and intervention) and control (improving management of the disease) are being put in place.

Given that one in three Singaporeans has the lifetime risk of developing diabetes as Singapore prospers, policy makers have had to shift from dealing with problems of malnutrition to problems of over-nutrition.

The participants were later divided into six breakout groups. Representatives from each group presented their ideas for discussion.

Some ideas included:
- create interactive computer games for the elderly which have health benefits
- teach basic eldercare to young students so that they better understand the needs of the elderly
- integrate Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) practices with Western medical practices, similar to China and Taiwan
- impose consumption tax on unhealthy food, and
- expand the current standard drug lists to have more drugs included for subsidy.

The PPF also invited two experts to join Mr Gan at the panel discussion. They were: Dr Benjie Ng, CEO of Sian Chay Medical Institution, one of oldest TCM institutions in Singapore, and Dr Loke Wai Chiong, Project Director of Sheares Healthcare Management, a Western trained doctor who looks at healthcare trends and investments in that area.

Responding to a query on the integration of TCM and Western medicine, Dr Ng shared that one in four Singaporeans actually used TCM but more for maintaining health, once symptomatic relief had been obtained.

Dr Loke commented that most people appreciated the healthcare policies, schemes and master plans but they still have day-to-day concerns on, for example, price of treatments in the private sector and differing pricing structures in public hospitals.

Mr Gan, replying to a query on lowering the qualification age for the Pioneer Generation Package, shared that it was one way for the current leadership generation, who have the resources, to honour the foregoing generation. However, it would be inappropriate for the current generation to honour itself. It was up to the next generation of leaders, should they have the resources, to decide if they too should take similar steps in future, he added.

Feedback from the participants after the dialogue was very positive, with many expressing a desire to attend future PPF dialogues.

The writer is a council member of the 6th PAP Policy Forum (PPF)

This article was first published in the May 2016 issue of Petir Magazine.