MP cautions against politicising health care

Dr Puthucheary was worried about the picture being painted about the health-care system here, saying the system does "pretty well" in accessibility, safety, provision of cost-effective and high-quality care, and investments to prevent disease.

SINGAPORE - Medical don Janil Puthucheary (Pasir Ris-Punggol GRC) cautioned against politicising issues as important as health care as he defended what Singapore has achieved and took to task those who put short-term electoral interest before the nation's health.

Dr Puthucheary, a paediatrician, said he worried about the picture being painted of Singapore's health-care system, which he lauded as one of the world's best.

"The facts are out there," he said, pointing to Singaporeans living longer and healthier, and having a better quality of life. The health-care system also does "pretty well" in accessibility, safety, provision of cost-effective and high-quality care, and investments to prevent disease.

And yet there are "a whole host of hysterical, irresponsible and inaccurate claims about a catastrophically dysfunctional system", he said.

In his 27-minute speech, he contrasted such claims to the constructive politics that President Tony Tan Keng Yam had called for in his speech at the opening of Parliament, and which Workers' Party chief Low Thia Khiang had countered on Monday.

In a rare move, Government Whip and Health Minister Gan Kim Yong sought and secured the House's consent to extend the PAP backbencher's speaking time beyond his allotted 20 minutes.

While Dr Puthucheary praised the public health-care system, he also raised questions about its current structure, pointing out that it relied on the market to drive preventive health measures, such as diet and exercise, and took a centralised approach when it came to complex acute expensive care.

"This kind of outcome-driven, evidence-based restructuring is what we will need to think about 20, 30 years ahead," he said. But he warned that short-term political interests could derail reforms for long-term benefits.

"The more politicians play with health care, the worse the health of the nation... It would start with sound-bite politics, like making comments about active ageing as a joke about corridor beds, when these are not reflective of the health outcomes."

He also addressed Mr Low's criticism that the Government equates constructive politics with compliant politics.

Dr Puthucheary said a diversity of opinions alone were insufficient to make hard choices, and that agreeing with someone else's policies is not compliant politics.

"If the policy is good, and it achieves its outcomes for a better life for citizens, then attacking it does not generate better politics. If the Government has a good policy, then the civil service supporting it is not just being compliant, they are serving the best interests of our nation."

Rather, he said, it was not good politics to fail to acknowledge the good, and to avoid discussion of consequences and trade-offs.

Rounding up his speech, Dr Puthucheary said the politicisation of health care would "look like using anecdotes to create fear and anxiety, telling carefully selected stories about unusual situations with a view to persuading people that everything is bad and needs to be changed".

This does a disservice to the hard work of health-care workers, and the excellent health-care outcomes Singapore has achieved, he said to enthusiastic thumps of approval from the front bench and fellow MPs.

This article was first published on May 28, 2014.
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