Synchronise efforts to care for the elderly

Synchronise efforts to care for the elderly
Madam Lim Siew Hwee (left) and Madam Daisy Tay (centre) having a weekly dance and movement therapy session at Thye Hua Kwan Bedok Radiance Senior Activity Centre on 20 March 2014. Cash-strapped help groups have been given a much needed boost after the Health Ministry relaxed the rules of a $1 billion trust fund in July 2013.

SINGAPORE - The Singapore Government may have one of the more efficient bureaucracies in the region, but sometimes, there is still a tendency for each ministry and government agency to function independently as if it were in a silo.

Unfortunately, governments cannot be truly effective if they are run in this manner. This is particularly so when it comes to dealing with multi-dimensional challenges such as that presented by an ageing population.

On March 5, Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam, who is also Deputy Prime Minister, noted in his Budget wrap-up speech that one million Singaporeans will reach retirement age in 10 to 20 years.

The country needs, he said, "a cost-effective way to prevent the total health-care bill from spiralling upwards, because everyone will have to pay for that".

In dealing with this issue, the relevant government departments could learn much from the the National Security Coordination Secretariat (NSCS). It was formed under the Prime Minister's Office in 1999 to address intelligence issues and formulate national security policy. In this way, security agencies under the Ministry of Defence, the Singapore Police Force and the Internal Security Department came together to manage security issues and threats.

The national effort to provide cost-effective health care to an ageing population requires a similarly coordinated approach. The Ministry of Health (MOH) in particular needs to leverage on the infrastructure and organisations that are already set up in the community.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) runs 41 family service centres (FSCs) and will have 14 social service offices (SSOs) by the middle of this year, including four new ones in Ang Mo Kio, Sengkang, Bedok and Queenstown. The MSF also plans to set up a new eldercare system for seniors by the end of the year in response to the increasing number of seniors living alone.

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