Planning begins for new general hospital in north

SINGAPORE - Planning has started on Singapore's next new general hospital in the north, as the Government builds ahead of an expected rise in demand from an ageing population.

The hospital, likely to be located in or near Woodlands, is one of four announced in March to be built between 2020 and 2030.

There will also be more community hospitals and nursing homes.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong made the announcement on Sunday even as construction began on two hospitals in Sengkang - a general and a community hospital - slated to be ready by 2018.

Mr Gan, an engineer by training, is known for his conservative approach to planning, preferring to be earlier rather than later.

On Sunday, he arrived half an hour early at the ground-breaking ceremony with the Senior Minister of State (Health) Amy Khor, after the two covered 3km in their constituency's annual run. "This is a signal to the Sengkang team to always be early," he quipped.

The Sengkang hospitals' pro-tem chief executive officer, Professor Christopher Cheng, rose to the challenge, promising to open the hospital's outpatient clinics as early as possible in 2018 - on Jan 1.

This will be followed three months later with the opening of the wards in the general hospital, and finally, the community hospital. Everything will be opened by the end of that year.

Located at the junction of Sengkang East Road and Sengkang East Way, the hospital complex sits on 6.9ha of land near public housing and will be linked to the Cheng Lim LRT station.

It will comprise a 1,000-bed general hospital and a 400-bed community hospital. They include 200 "swing beds" which could be used by either hospital.

Prof Cheng said the hospital complex will allow for another 200 beds to be added if the need arises, raising the total to 1,600 beds. This can be done without incurring more construction costs.

Like Health City Novena, the mega health complex that will include hospital, medical school and step-down facilities, the Sengkang development will also include public spaces for residents to enjoy.

Called the "Community Heart", the first floor of the building will have cafes, retail outlets, seats and open spaces for community events. Hospital gardens will also be open to the public.

Prof Cheng said these public areas will be "clean" - that is, visitors will not be at risk of catching hospital bugs - as the hospital proper starts on the second floor. The exception is the emergency department at ground level.

To cater to Sengkang's relatively young population, the hospital will provide both obstetric and gynaecology, as well as paediatric outpatient treatments.

Associate Professor Ong Biauw Chi, its pro-tem chairman of medical board, said pregnant women can get pre- and ante-natal care at the hospital. But deliveries will still be done at KK Women's and Children's Hospital (KKH), as it will be too expensive to duplicate the facilities at Sengkang.

Similarly, while there will be paediatric outpatient clinics, young patients who need to be warded will be sent to KKH.

Prof Cheng said the main challenge is getting the 5,000 people he will need to man these facilities. So he has already started recruiting.

The Sengkang team will take over the running of Alexandra Hospital from the current team, which will move to the new 700-bed Ng Teng Fong Hospital in Jurong when it opens next year.

Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.