NTUC set to 'emerge as big player' in care for elderly

Construction work at the site of NTUC's first nursing home in Jurong West, which will open next year. In addition, it is ready to invest in another five homes in the next three to five years.
PHOTO: NTUC set to 'emerge as big player' in care for elderly

SINGAPORE - NTUC'S entry into the nursing home sector will likely see it emerge as a "prominent player" because of its reputation and size, say experts.

Despite this, some nursing home operators do not see the National Trades Union Congress as a potential competition.

"There are a lot of patients waiting for beds," said Ms Christina Loh, nursing director of Man Fut Tong Nursing Home. "Maybe when (NTUC's home) is open, it will shorten the waiting time."

On Wednesday, NTUC announced that its first nursing home will open in Jurong West next year.

In addition, it declared that it was "prepared to invest" in another five homes in the next three to five years.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the latest move by NTUC into the nursing home sector reflects the rising interest of service providers.

"This is a good sign and we welcome more players to enter the sector to ramp up services for our ageing population," said a ministry spokesman yesterday.

Senior economics lecturer Tan Khay Boon at SIM Global Education feels that as a big player, NTUC can "help uphold standards in operating nursing homes, and be a benchmark for other nursing home operators". NTUC was unlikely to be able to lead the price competition, he added, because "the pie is big enough to accommodate more suppliers".

Catholic Welfare Services (CWS) chairman Thomas Tan welcomed the news, even though CWS runs three nursing homes. "Everyone who has the resources should do good work," he said.

In January, there were about 10,000 nursing home beds available. MOH aims to raise this to 15,600 by 2020.

There are now 69 nursing homes here. If all six of NTUC's planned homes become a reality, they could account for about a third of the shortfall in beds. But the major sticking point is likely to be manpower, as NTUC will have to hire aggressively to outfit its new nursing home.

"Nursing care is a labour-intensive service, and it is not easy to get local people in allied health-care services," said Dr Tan of SIM Global Education.

NTUC Enterprise chairman Lim Boon Heng admitted that the industry's manpower shortage was something that the new home would have to tackle.

"For nursing staff, of course, we have to recruit qualified nurses. This will be a challenge," said Mr Lim. "For the support staff, we think that there will be those who are not working today who can be recruited and trained for the purpose."

He added that NTUC could draw on existing manpower from its other arms for the new home. For instance, many of the staff on its elderly home-care programme are part-timers trained in basic care techniques who could be redeployed as support staff to the new nursing home.

But some nursing home operators are still concerned that NTUC's arrival will mean more competition in the labour market.

"If they are going to employ more people and pay better, people will prefer to be working there," said Mr C.V. Nathan, chairman of the Singapore Amalgamated Services Cooperative Organisation, which operates a senior citizens' home with about 100 beds.

However, Mr Nathan said the home has not experienced a high staff turnover despite the tight labour market.

Other nursing home operators simply see the changes as a "necessary evil".

"If there are more homes needed, more manpower will be needed," said Mr Thomas Tan of CWS, which operates nursing homes in Yishun, Jurong and Thomson.

"If it's not NTUC, it will be someone else. The greater tragedy is if people need homes, but there are none available."

linettel@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 25, 2014.
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