Woman 'confused' by patients using bottles to queue for treatment at Sengkang free clinic, says it's 'unfair'

Bottles lined up outside the clinic, placed by patients trying to reserve their spot in line.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

Singaporeans might be known for queueing, but some regular patients at a free clinic in Sengkang have adopted a rather unorthodox method of ensuring they get a slot for treatment. 

A woman surnamed Cai told Shin Min Daily News that she visited the Kwan-In welfare Society Sengkang Free Clinic last Friday (Jan 20) to seek treatment for her finger. 

"I usually arrive after 9am to get a queue number, but that day I reached 20 minutes earlier. I saw [other patients] using medicine bottles to hold their spot in line, and there were quite a few of them," the 50-year-old housewife recounted to the Chinese daily. 

After asking around, Cai was told to queue behind the line of medicine bottles, leaving her bewildered. 

"It didn't feel right, but I did it anyway," she said. 

'Queuing' with bottles the night before

At 9am, Cai saw a group of men and women aged between 40 to 60 making a beeline for the bottles on the floor. 

"They retrieved their bottles and queued in front of me. There were about 10 people standing behind me, and we were all puzzled." 

Cai also managed to speak to some of the people in line, and found out that some of them actually began 'queuing' the night before. 

When a Shin Min reporter visited the clinic on Thursday, there were about seven or eight bottles lined outside the door. As soon as the clinic opened its doors, about 10 people rushed in. 

One of the patients who used a bottle to queue, Yang, told Shin Min that she has been visiting this clinic for the past five years for acupuncture treatment.

With the limited number of slots available, Yang said she has to resort to placing her bottle outside the clinic the night before to ensure she gets a place. 

"[This practice] has been around for ages, I'm not the first one [to do it]. I'm worried there will be too many people and I won't get a slot." 

Clinic tried to stop this practice 

According to Cai, the clinic has tried to discourage its patients from reserving their spots with bottles.

There was previously a notice pasted on the clinic's door, but it has since been removed. 

"If they're elderly patients who can't walk, then it's fine. But these patients can walk and wait in line. It's very unfair. This kind of practice should not be allowed, they should let those who are here join the queue first," lamented Cai. 

A staff at the clinic surnamed Chen told Shin Min that the clinic sees about 80 patients a day, and each session takes about 20 minutes. 

Some patients are not willing to stand in line, and hence have resorted to using the bottles. 

Chen further shared that this practice has been around since she joined the clinic some 20 years ago.

In the past, patients even used to place tree branches or pieces of bark to mark their spot. 

"We're a free clinic, so it's hard to maintain order like they do in hospitals. We've tried to discourage patients from doing this over the years, but nothing has changed.

"Sometimes there are patients who argue, but we always ask them to maintain order, and most of them will listen," surmised Chen. 

A resident, Lin, told Shin Min that he often sees the line of bottles outside the clinic when he walks past on weekdays, and sees it as nothing out of the ordinary. 

"I've seen up to 20 people queuing at once. Using the bottles to queue has been a longtime practice, even though it's unfair to others." 

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