The World Health Organisation (WHO) has predicted that the number of people above the age of 65 years will increase from an estimated 524 million in 2010 to nearly 1.5 billion in 2050. Similarly, Singapore is expected to have 610,000 residents in the above-65 cohort by 2020 compared with 460,000 last year.

As the baby boomers retreat and exit the workforce, manpower will be stressed and stretched, with fewer younger workers to take over from those who are retiring.

Rapid growth of elderly sector can stress healthcare system

The Singaporean Ministry of Health has launched the 2020 Healthcare Manpower Plan, in tandem with the prediction that the country will require an additional 30,000 healthcare workers by 2020 in order to sustain quality healthcare for the rapidly ageing population.

The first two strategies of the Healthcare Manpower Plan are to equip healthcare workforce with relevant health care skillsets and to expand a strong local workforce by investing in Singaporeans across all ages and levels of experience. With that, SkillsFuture initiatives, training programmes and scholarships to pursue healthcare training both locally and overseas are being introduced to invite more Singaporeans to be a part of the evolving healthcare sector.

"Whether young or old, fresh school leavers, mid-career Singaporeans, non-practising healthcare professionals, we will help you with training and development to take on meaningful and fulfilling careers in this sector,” said Gan, who added that there are ongoing plans to train more doctors in specialties such as Family, Geriatric and Internal Medicine.

Other efforts include recalling former nurses through the ‘Return to Nursing’ programme, which will be introduced in Nanyang Polytechnic this December to provide refresher courses for former nurses to rejoin the workforce.

"With their previous nursing experience, they are valuable assets and contribute to caring for patients and residents and helping them to stay well in the home and community environment,” said Gan.

Manpower Plan aims to recruit, retrain and retain workers

"In tandem with our aspirations to become a Smart Nation, public healthcare institutions are endeavouring to deliver more efficient and productive services through the use of technology," stated the Ministry of Health on the third strategy, which is to leverage technology to improve productivity in the healthcare sector.

According to Gan, the key is to minimise hospital care for the elderly, instead, make home and community care more accessible and affordable by setting up more community facilities such as polyclinics, nursing homes and senior care centres.

The Centre of Healthcare Innovation (CHI) Co-Learning Network is a collaboration of 21 partners, aimed at training healthcare providers to support the shift from hospital to community care, while also developing a sustainable healthcare system through technology and job redesign.

"We will be investing even more heavily in everyone working in healthcare, so that they have the skills to deliver the best quality care while taking advantage of new technologies,” added Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam. MIMS

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