NKF to raise subsidies to encourage home dialysis

NKF to raise subsidies to encourage home dialysis
Madam Radhiah Rashid undergoing dialysis at home. She does this four times a day, 45 minutes each time. She says it is far less tiring than being hooked up to a machine at a dialysis centre for four hours at a time.

It is more convenient and healthier to undergo dialysis at home - yet kidney patients in Singapore are reluctant to embrace this.

And that is why the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) intends to further raise subsidies to encourage patients to choose home-based peritoneal dialysis - commonly known as water dialysis. Of its 3,400 kidney patients now, just 328 - less than a 10th of the total - are on peritoneal dialysis.

In 2013, the NKF came up with a bag of goodies to encourage home dialysis. It offered vouchers, paid for home renovations and got nurses to do home visits. But only about 100 new peritoneal dialysis patients came on board last year.

At the Kidney Dialysis Foundation, peritoneal patients have dropped from 70 in 2010 to 38 last year.

NKF senior nurse clinician Tang Woon Hoe said the slow uptake is due to a "confidence issue".

In an NKF survey of 2,000 patients who receive treatment at its centres, the top reasons given for not wanting to make the switch to home treatment was the belief that they could not manage the procedure on their own, or had nobody to help them. There was also a fear of infection.

"But actually, infection rates are low and they can call our staff on standby if they need help," said Ms Tang.

The treatment patients get at centres is called haemodialysis. It involves being hooked up to a machine, which acts like an artificial kidney and filters the patient's blood. It takes up to four hours each time, and patients typically undergo the procedure three times a week.

Peritoneal dialysis involves filling and draining dialysis fluid into and out of the abdominal cavity either four times a day - 45 minutes each time - or overnight.

Not only can patients save the trouble and expense of travelling to a centre, they can also drink and eat more as their dialysis is done more regularly on a daily basis.

It is considered to be gentler on the body as waste materials do not build up but are discharged more frequently.

"It has proven to be as good as haemodialysis, but awareness of it in the community is not very high," said Ms Tang. "Patients should not feel alone in this journey and we want to be there to give them the confidence to help themselves."

Currently, both haemodialysis and peritoneal dialysis are subsidised by the NKF and the Government. Patients get an average of $600 in subsidies a month, depending on their financial situation.

Haemodialysis costs about $2,000 a month while peritoneal dialysis costs between $1,000 and $2,000, depending on whether patients opt for the day or night treatment.

More details of the increased subsidy for home dialysis will be released next month at the NKF's charity musical.

The NKF also intends to beef up its community support teams of nurses to include doctors, medical social workers and dieticians who will visit the homes of those on this form of treatment to monitor and advise them.

The push towards home dialysis is also based on the simple reality that building more dialysis centres is unsustainable in the long run because of space and monetary constraints, said the NKF.

Its 26 centres are currently running at near-full capacity.

It intends to open four more centres this year to cater to another 1,000 new patients expected to need dialysis in 2020, but they will not come cheap. It costs $2 million to set up a new centre and another $2 million to run it every year.

Places facing a space crunch, such as Hong Kong and Thailand, already have a "peritoneal dialysis first" policy. In Hong Kong, only one fifth of kidney patients are on haemodialysis.

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