Major effort to beef up home-care sector

Major effort to beef up home-care sector

DEMAND for home care is expected to double in the next five years, and a big push to beef up the sector is now under way.

The national Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) said it will help home-care providers to expand and improve their services.

A "pot of money" has been set aside for those that want to send their staff for further training, said AIC's chief executive Jason Cheah yesterday, without disclosing the amount.

More training and development opportunities will also be provided for home-care staff, he told reporters at a conference on integrated care.

More than 1,000 experts worldwide are attending this first World Congress on Integrated Care. The meet, organised by AIC, ends today.

Demand for home-care services, like having nurses visit regularly to administer medication or carers to look after disabled people, has been rising.

In the past year, 7,000 people received such care, up from 5,600 in 2011. The number is expected to "easily double" in the next five years, said Dr Cheah, as Singapore's population ages.

"What we intend to do in the coming months is to build up the capabilities of home-care providers, and to provide them with more resources so they can expand their services islandwide," he said.

On top of this, home care for people with dementia is being developed, so they need not always turn to daycare centres or nursing homes.

Singapore has 13 home-care providers run by voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs), which often have limited funds. Every year, they receive an average of 5,800 referrals for home care from the AIC, which oversees the long-term care sector.

There are about 30 other privately run services.

Having properly trained staff is vital to ensure sound judgments are made during patient visits, said Mr Satyaprakash Tiwari, divisional director (elderly and disability) at Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities, a VWO that offers home care.

Even staff who used to work in hospitals have to get extra training to appreciate the unique needs of a home-care patient, added Dr Ng Wai Chong, medical director of Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, an initiative of the Tsao Foundation.

"As a community worker, one has to understand the psychology and social needs of the patient."

An elderly person with diabetes, for instance, may not control his condition well because he cannot afford to pay for more nutritious food.

Strengthening care beyond the hospital is among the Health Ministry's priorities as the country greys. By 2030, one in five residents is expected to be older than 65, double the rate today.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong said at the conference opening yesterday that "close collaboration" between the primary and long-term care sectors is important as well. Several recent schemes show such partnerships can benefit patients, he noted.

One example is Changi General Hospital's programme that stations trained carers for up to two weeks at the homes of patients fresh out of hospital, to help them adjust to life back at home.

The arrangement has helped 130 patients from March to September, and is provided with the help of Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities.

Mr Gan added: "Even while we improve our quality of care through better integration, it is important to ensure that care remains affordable."

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