News Reports

Patients’ blue Christmas

I can’t help but think about how favourably ST painted the hospitals facing a “severe bed crunch’’. Instead of castigating the health authorities for poor foresight and planning, the tone appears to be pretty congratulatory, applauding the hospitals for taking “unusual steps’’.


And it’s not as though the bed crunch is a new thing. You would have thought the problem would have been licked a long time ago. How many beds were there in the past, say in 2008, and now? New hospitals have come on stream yet the number of beds are still below patient admissions. And this is despite borrowing space from private hospitals. It’s time to look at the numbers more closely and think about a decent buffer for “high’’ periods.  


I recall the shock when it was first revealed that patients were put on beds along corridors a few years ago. So forcing them out to corridors is no unusual thing or innovation. Instead, it smacks of desperation.


Perhaps the air-conditioned tent is new. But really, you don’t expect your loved one to be housed in a tent. Another question: If there are more patients than beds, do we also have enough nurses and doctors to go around? If something so basic as space is not calibrated right, what about other medical facilities and treatment? In other words, is the hospital system coming under strain? And if so, why?


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Is this the outcome of a more crowded island? Of beds being used by paying foreign patients? Of hospitals being badly sited or wrong sized for their catchment population? What about Singapore General Hospital and National University Hospital? What’s their situation?   


One hospital CEO said this was abnormal because there is usually a dip in numbers during the festive season. That sounds about right. People would like to be home for Christmas and New Year than celebrate by their lonesome self. So what accounts for the abnormality? Dengue fever cases?  


But an MP put the blame on the festive season. So eat and drink too much and got sick? Pity he didn’t elaborate but the same hospital CEO was quoted saying that this was “possible’’. People decline to be discharged because family members are away on holiday. How odd! A loved one is sick and the family goes vacationing.


You don’t suppose the same thing happened last year? Or maybe it did, and nobody blew the whistle?


So here’s an alternative way to write the same story.

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It’s happened again. Public hospitals here are resorting to putting patients in trolley beds along corridors because there is simply no room for them. At least four hospitals are feeling the squeeze. Two have started moving patients to the 800-bed Alexandra Hospital. It appears that the squeeze started in Sept, with Alexandra chalking up 800 “other’’ patients to the end of the year. It takes in  about 11 patients a day now.


Like it did in 2008, Tan Tock Seng Hospital are lining beds along corridors, putting them so close that patients could reach out and touch each other.


The 1,200-bed Changi General Hospital, despite renting space from Parkway East and St Andrews, set up an air-conditioned tent on its premises to shelter XX people. Its CEO cited a 24 hour wait for a bed although one patient said she stayed two days in a “transit’’ area without a bath before getting her B2 bed.


The recurrence of the shortage is raising questions about the planning parameters of the Health ministry. Its minister Gan Kim Yong said last night that he was apprised of the problem which is why 1,900 more acute hospital beds and 2,600 community hospital beds by 2020. He did not give a timetable on when beds will start being added.

In 2008, the ministry said that it would do what? At that time, there were how many hospital beds with admissions exceeding the number by what. There was a repeat in 2010 with the ministry reiterating what ? Then, there were how many hospital beds, how many fewer than the number admitted when?

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A hospital CEO said the spike was unusual and could not say what this was due to. An MP hazarded a guess and blamed the holiday season. He did not elaborate.   


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© 2022 Bertha Henson

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