Getting help will be easier

PHOTO: Getting help will be easier

SINGAPORE - Build more hospitals, introduce more subsidies and coordinate between agencies.

Day Two of the release of the addendum to the President's speech at the opening of the 12th Parliament was marked by key phrases like "ground-up". It's putting "we will listen" into action.

The Government's plan is to narrow the gap between the user and the provider of services.

This was the message in the addendum issued by the Health and National Development ministries yesterday.

The Government plans to build a new acute and community hospital in Sengkang. There are plans to train more doctors and health-care professionals.

Over the past five years, MOH has already added more than 700 public acute and community hospital beds, including the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

It has also increased the number of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals by more than 50 per cent.

There are plans to expand portable subsidy schemes so that private acute hospitals will play a greater role in serving the subsidised health-care needs of Singaporeans.

And to ensure health care remains affordable, MOH expanded subsidies for medication and for aged care, especially for the needy elderly.

But narrowing the gap and identifying those who need help isn't always easy.

Often, social workers act as the bridge.

Mr Sim Yong, a social worker at Lions Befrienders Service Association, said sometimes people don't know there is help available.

Lions Befrienders is a voluntary welfare organisation (VWO) which provides emotional support to lonely seniors.

Mr Yong related the case of a stroke patient in his 70s who spent more than $20 each time he took a return taxi trip to Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

He needed to go there for his monthly check-up.

The retiree had no clue there was an escort service available which would cost him about half of what he was paying.

He found out about the service, provided by Touch Home Care, only after Mr Sim told him about it.

Now, his wife no longer needs to accompany him to the hospital because there is an attendant who escorts him right up to the ward.

Coordination, for people like the stroke patient, becomes important.

Mr Yong said: "When a senior goes to a social worker, it depends on whether the person is able to do the right referral or not. You need to know what the senior needs and who to look for to cater to their needs."

So agencies like the HDB will be thinking of more than just providing a flat.

As National Development Minister Khaw Boon Wan explained: "Some vulnerable families are unable to afford their own homes and will need subsidised rental housing. We are building more flats to meet such demand.

"However, building more rental housing is not the long-term solution as many of these families have deeper social problems. We will collaborate with social agencies to render holistic help."

HDB announced in August that it will further increase the supply of rental flats under the Public Rental Scheme, bringing HDB's stock of rental flats to about 57,000 units by 2015.

Madam Parveen Beagam Moonshi Sirajuddin, 27, gets help from multiple agencies.

She lives in a two-room rental flat in Punggol with her husband and two young children.

She also receives financial assistance from the Community Development Council (CDC), which pays for her rent, utility bills and service and conservancy charges and gives her $300 monthly cash allowance.

But she did not always know which agencies she could turn to when she found herself in a rut three years ago.

Then, she was six months pregnant and without a roof over her head after her parents sold the flat which she shared with them and her husband.

She found out about the rental flat scheme only after visiting a friend who lived in a rental flat in Redhill during Hari Raya then.


Climate change

Climate change and its impact are also on the Government's agenda.

But again, the ground-up approach was a key theme.

The Ministry of the Environment and Water Resources (MEWR) said it will consult more closely with the public on its policies by developing more channels of communication.

Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, who helms the ministry, added: "We will also continue to encourage good work by the community through our annual campaigns, cultivating strong environmental advocates and working closely with 3P (people, private, public) stakeholders to nurture environmentally-consciousness in our citizens."

MEWR is working with the National Climate Change Secretariat (NCCS) and partner agencies to enhance Singapore's resilience against the potential impact of climate change.

Already MEWR has identified one necessary change.

Dr Balakrishnan explained: "Based on preliminary studies, we will need to raise minimum levels for land reclamation by at least 1m to create an adequate buffer against a potential rise in sea level."

As for flooding, MEWR is conducting an in-depth review of all flood protection measures that will be implemented in Singapore over the next decade.

Dr Balakrishnan said: "In the meantime, we are continuing to enhance the drainage system and working with the public to ensure adequate flood protection for their properties."

NCCS, which is in the Prime Minister's Office, plans to invest in infrastructure as well as in research and development of low carbon technologies for deployment in Singapore.

Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, who is chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Climate Change, said: "Businesses and households will also have to change their practices and lifestyles respectively to be more environmentally sustainable."

But Singapore's experience and expertise in addressing the challenges of climate change will also generate new economic opportunities, said Mr Teo, who is also Minister for Home Affairs.

He added: "(They will be) in emerging industries such as clean energy, carbon services and energy services, as well as in existing industries. We will work with the business community to seek out and capitalise on such opportunities locally and abroad."