New hospital in the north – who will staff it?

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By Mary Lee

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Plans for the new 1,400-bed hospital in Sengkang East must have been in the works for a while now — the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital in Yishun was kicked around for years too — but the announcement that Sengkang East will open in 2018 – two years earlier than originally planned – will help to draw even more votes to the PAP in the  the 2016 general elections. What can the opposition dangle? That, without it, the Sengkang East hospital may not be there by 2016? A bit limp, that.

In the meantime, the opening of the new north hospital raises serious manpower planning questions that need to be tackled: Where’s the staffing coming from? How many foreign doctors and other healthcare professionals, including nurses do we have to import? Support staff (the cleaners, administrative workers) one can draw from the Integrated Resorts (IRs, which, incidentally, never got round to giving the 70,000 jobs they promised anyway).

The IRs apparently have jobs for 22,000 “mostly locals” and contributed an impressive $22.3 billion in tourism dollars in 2011. As the IRs are up and running, let’s leave it to their marketing departments to compete with casinos in Macau, the Philippines and elsewhere, and the social workers to deal with gambling addictions – a much larger problem than was originally anticipated.

Why didn’t they plan instead on making Singapore the medical hub that it’s become? Income from medical services internationally reached US$1.74 billion and is going to see “phenomenal growth” according to researchandmarkets.com.

We currently have 10, 225 doctors (giving us a doctor:population ratio of 1:520), 34, 567 registered nurses (1:150) and only 1:3230 dentists (MOH figures). There is a 2020 Healthcare Masterplan where, by 2020, with the third medical school, we will produce 500 doctors, 3,700 nurses and 20 pharmacists annually. Not enough, as the queues in our specialist and polyclinics will show.

Admittedly, manpower planning may not seem as magnetic a vote-getter as building a brand new hospital. But can we be given a look anyway?