Health sector 'ready for surge in patients'

Health sector 'ready for surge in patients'

SINGAPORE - Medical institutions are poised and prepared to tackle a surge in patients should the haze take a turn for the worse or linger on, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said yesterday.

In outlining contingency plans for the health-care sector, he said priority lies at the polyclinics, which are bearing the brunt of haze-related illnesses.

But overall, there are three areas of importance: Maintaining patient safety, meeting the demand of more patients and minimising disruption to medical services.

He also said the government subsidy scheme for haze-related ailments has attracted about 600 private clinics and helped more than 2,000 patients at polyclinics.

The scheme, which started last Friday, allows those aged 18 and younger, 65 and older, and the poor on public assistance to see a doctor for $10.

Mr Gan said: "We hope more private clinics will come on board - we continue to reach out to them."

But more important are the measures at polyclinics.

Doctors at the 18 polyclinics islandwide handled 16.5 per cent more patients last week compared with the week before.

"So far, the impact of haze on the hospitals has been manageable because most of the demand is at the polyclinics," Mr Gan said when he set out the action plan of these medical institutions. Air-conditioned rooms will be turned into waiting areas when the air quality drops. Staff will be diverted from less critical areas to manage patients hit by the haze.

"One area, for example, is routine screening and check-ups - these are not time-sensitive," said Mr Gan. "So we may need to reschedule them a week, two weeks or three weeks later."

And medical supplies are being reviewed to ensure that there is enough to cater for more people.

Speaking to reporters following his visit to Toa Payoh Polyclinic, Mr Gan said polyclinics will also be on the alert for vulnerable patients in the triage area, which is where staff assess patients when they arrive.

Such patients include young children, the elderly and those with respiratory conditions.

If the situation worsens, the polyclinics also have a system to deliver medication to the homes of patients, he added.

Dr Lew Yii Jen, director of clinical services at National Healthcare Group Polyclinics, said air-conditioned tents may even be set up at, say, the carpark for patients to wait for their turn to see the doctor.

In addition, consultations may be done over the phone with those whose conditions are stable, while others may be advised to see a nearby private doctor to ease the load on polyclinics, Dr Lew said.

Hospitals, in the meantime, are making space for more beds, said Mr Gan.

Air purifiers and air coolers are also being set up to support the care of weaker patients, he added. SingHealth Polyclinics' assistant director for clinical services Derek Tse said a close watch is being kept on medical supplies.

These include eye drops, cough mixtures, antibiotics, and drugs for fever, allergies and asthma. But there is no fixed Pollutant Standards Index level at which the contingency plans will kick in.

"We give flexibility to the hospitals and institutions to judge," said Mr Gan. "Different patients have different reactions to the haze. What is more important is to proactively manage the patients based on their condition."


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