Rising cost blamed for fee increases at public hospitals

SINGAPORE - In the past six months, other public hospitals and several specialist medical centres also increased their out-patient consultation fees, Lianhe Zaobao reported.

Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, National University Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital increased their fees at the end of last year.

Singapore General Hospital, the Institute of Mental Health, Alexandra Hospital and Changi General Hospital increased their fees earlier this year.

The Chinese language newspaper checked with the eight public hospitals and found that the increases were not uniform.

Some hospitals adjusted the charges for the different types of patients in stages. The fee increases ranged from 4 per cent to 16 per cent for Singaporeans.

Most of the hospitals cited inflationary pressures, operating costs such as maintenance fees and manpower expenses as factors for an increase in the hospitals' overall expenses.

According to the Lianhe Zaobao report, the hospitals have tried to reduce costs through various means, such as bulk purchasing, increasing productivity and waste reduction.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Health (MOH) pointed out that our public hospitals and the national specialist medical centres operate on a cost recovery model.

For most healthcare services, there are substantial government subsidies.

Still, from time to time, the hospitals and national centres have to raise fees to respond to the rising costs of drugs and medical equipment, manpower, maintenance and upgrading of facilities, the spokesman said.

"Fee hikes are made only after careful consideration, and MOH works with hospitals to minimise the impact on patients in the event of a fee increase."

The Government is committed to keeping healthcare costs affordable and ensuring that quality healthcare is accessible to all Singaporeans.

"To help patients cope with rising healthcare costs, we have enhanced our financial assistance schemes such as Medifund and the Medication Assistance Fund, which our hospitals and national centres can tap on to help needy Singaporeans," the spokesman said.

"No patient who genuinely needs medical help will be denied treatment due to financial difficulties."

Polyclinics managed by both SingHealth and National Healthcare Group have also increased their consultation fees.

The lowest increase is 30 cents for senior citizens, while the highest increase is 70 cents for adult consultations.

Both groups also cited increased costs as the reason for the fee increase.

A forum letter to newspapers recently questioned the increase in consultation fees at the Singapore National Eye Centre and linked it to the announcement of higher pay for healthcare workers. In reply, the Singapore National Eye Centre's chief financial officer Moses Wong said: " The recently announced salary enhancements for doctors and other health-care professionals are fully funded by the Government and are not a factor in this fee revision."

The National Dental Centre, National Heart Centre, National Skin Centre and the National Cancer Centre have also increased their fees.

This article was first published in The New Paper.