POLYCLINICS will play a bigger role in training doctors to meet rising demand for the management of chronic diseases, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday.
Two in five Singaporeans aged 20 years and above have diabetes, high blood pressure or high blood cholesterol.
This was revealed by the Ministry of Health's (MOH's) latest National Health Survey 2010 released yesterday.
MOH added that diabetes is the most serious condition as it can lead to blindness, kidney failure and limb amputations.
The survey also showed that the number of diabetics aged 40 and above has doubled over time - from about 170,000 in 1992 to 350,000 last year. The number is expected to increase to 600,000 by 2030.
With chronic-disease patients getting younger, and a "significant" increase in diabetics, Mr Gan said that it is essential to grow the number of family physicians, who can provide primary care for these people.
Speaking at the opening of the newly renovated Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic, Mr Gan explained that the roles of family physicians have "expanded and evolved over the years" with the shift in focus towards care for people with chronic diseases.
While there has been a 50 per cent increase - from 20 to 31 - in enrolment in a three-year postgraduate course in Family Medicine from 2009 to this year, he said more needs to be done.
The Choa Chu Kang Polyclinic is one of four training centres for postgraduate doctors specialising in Family Medicine.
The other three are at Bukit Batok, Toa Payoh and Hougang.
But Mr Gan, a Member of Parliament for Chua Chu Kang Group Representation Constituency, told reporters that it is not an easy task to encourage more general practitioners or doctors doing their residency programme to become family physicians.
He is, however, still optimistic that there are other means to cope with the growing burden of chronic diseases, such as tapping into the large pool of general practitioners in the private sector.
Said Mr Gan: "Our polyclinics have done much to meet the needs of the ageing population and also the growing burden of chronic diseases.
"Our polyclinics, however, cannot and should not do this alone. We should leverage on the many capable and committed general practitioners in the community."
Mr Gan said that, over time, he hopes there will be enough family physicians for both public and private sectors to meet the needs of the population.
He added that more details on these issues will be shared during the Primary-Care Workplan Seminar next month.
Meanwhile, work has begun in the four polyclinics to improve the experience of the doctors training to be family physicians.
To help with their training, a Resident Continuity Clinic will be set up in the four polyclinics for these doctors to have a conducive environment to learn from their mentors.
They will also have the opportunity to follow up on patients with chronic diseases there, said Dr Chong Phui-Nah, director of the National Healthcare Group's Family Medicine Development Division.
Dr Chong said that there are now 10 such doctors training in the polyclinics to become family physicians. She added that 16 are expected to come in next year and, subsequently, 20 each year.
For more my paper stories click here.