SINGAPORE - Half of the patients at the emergency departments at public hospitals wait less than half an hour for a consultation, if theirs is a less life-threatening emergency such as a bleeding cut.
On the other extreme, 5 per cent wait as long as one hour and 20 minutes, on average.
If the emergency is life-threatening, the patient is attended to immediately.
The waiting time to be admitted also varies.
About half of the patients take less than three hours to be admitted, while 5 per cent wait more than nine hours.
Health Minister Gan Kim Yong gave these average monthly figures yesterday in a written answer to Workers' Party's Mr Chen Show Mao (Aljunied GRC).
He had asked if the ministry tracked the 5 per cent with the longest waiting time at the emergency departments - or the 95th percentile - and for the waiting time it considered acceptable.
Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang (Aljunied GRC) had also pressed the minister last month for an acceptable waiting time for admission.
He said people had to wait from eight hours to as long as 23 hours, given the shortage of hospital beds.
Mr Gan had replied then that patients should not wait for "more than a few hours".
In his written reply, he again stressed that all life-threatening cases are attended to immediately. Medical teams will also monitor, care for and medically assess patients during the wait.
"Our hospitals have put in place protocols to ensure care is not compromised despite high demand for emergency department services," he said.
These include at least one senior doctor being present with a team of other doctors and nurses trained for emergencies.
The ministry has also stepped up efforts to encourage patients to visit general practitioners (GPs) for non-emergencies, so that the emergency departments can focus on those who need their services.
Mr Gan cited such a scheme launched in January this year in which the Eastern Health Alliance works with GPs in the east.
Changi General Hospital, a member of the alliance, was reported to offer a 50 per cent discount off the $100 A&E bill to patients who see a GP first, with the aim of diverting as many as 100 patients a day.
This article was published on April 15 in The Straits Times.Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.