SINGAPORE - Public hospitals are rushing to set up mobile air-conditioners, air blowers and fans to ensure clean air for their subsidised patients.
With the haze hitting hazardous levels, patients in B2- and C-class wards can no longer enjoy fresh air through open windows.
It becomes very stuffy when all the windows are closed, said Mr Joe Sim, chief executive of National University Hospital (NUH). So, it has taken out its stock of more than 100 mobile air-conditioners and put them in these wards.
Changi General Hospital, on the other hand, is "blasting" air into the wards, said Mr T.K. Udairam, head of Eastern Health Alliance, which runs the hospital. This forms a positive pressure that forces used air out through the doors, so the air in the wards remains fresh.
At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), fans and air blowers are being rented and leased. It is also grouping patients at greater risk from the haze in special wards with greater protection.
On Thursday night, the Health Ministry's director of medical services, Professor K. Satku, said not all patients need to be in wards with closed windows, only those who are frail or have underlying medical conditions.
KTPH is also limiting each patient to two visitors at one time.
"This is especially important as the windows in the ward areas are closed or nearly closed. Having many visitors in the wards may compromise the comfort level of our patients," said its spokesman.
The hospital's emergency department is seeing about 30 per cent more patients with asthma this month. NUH reported 10 per cent more patients at its emergency department yesterday.
At a press conference on Thursday night, the Health Ministry said there was usually a one- to three-day lag between bad haze and a rise in patient numbers. But polyclinics and hospitals are ready to cope with an expected surge.
It advised people to stay indoors today, as the 24-hour PSI is expected to be between 200 and 300. If they need to be outside for long periods, they should wear an N95 mask. Even healthy adults should avoid prolonged or strenuous outdoor activity, it said.
Already, more people are heading to neighbourhood clinics with haze-related ailments, from itchy eyes to cough, asthma and chest pain. Doctors are also handing out more medical certificates (MCs) for sick workers to stay home.
Raffles Medical, which has 72 clinics, has seen the number of patients surge 20 per cent, said Dr Tan Joo Peng, its senior manager and physician leader.
Dr Philip Koh, chairman of the medical board at the Healthway chain of 53 clinics, said he has given about 20 per cent more MCs at his Tampines branch. "I haven't had to send anyone to hospital yet, but if this situation persists, I might have to," he added.
SingHealth Polyclinics has seen about 400 asthma patients since Monday, up from 340 in the same period last week, said family physician Jason Tan.
At Bukit Batok Polyclinic, shipyard worker Zaw Min Aung, 35, was spotted with a mask over his face. The Myanmar national, who was upset that the haze has interrupted his work and sleep, had to take the next two days off work.
Beauty consultant Faezah Sanim, 20, said her family of four has fallen ill from the haze.
But many acknowledge there is little they can do. Housewife Jolene Quek, 50, is relying on her air-conditioners. "I make warm chrysanthemum tea for my children and make sure they stay indoors as much as possible," said the mother of two.
Dr Elaine Tan of the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics said that with the dengue outbreak and the threat of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, clinics "may need to prioritise in attending to at-risk groups and those in need of urgent care".
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