Patients who seek treatment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) may still have to wait over eight hours for a bed, even though more beds have been placed in the hospital to increase its capacity.

"At times, when there is overwhelming demand for our ED services, some patients with less critical conditions may have to wait longer for treatment and admission,” said a spokesperson from TTSH.

"In those situations, our patient ambassadors and nursing staff will strive to attend to concerns of the patients and caregivers, and to seek their understanding. Patients who do not require emergency care are advised to seek medical attention at the polyclinics or GP clinics."

Long waits persist despite additional beds

Over the past three years, roughly 2,500 beds have been added to public hospitals to meet increasing demands for healthcare, raising the total capacity in hospitals to 10,500 beds. Yet, at times when there is a spike in demand, patients may have to be temporarily put in beds along corridors with curtains for privacy.

An average bed occupancy rate above 80% is deemed as very high, as not all beds are used for general use – the total bed count includes beds in intensive care which are reserved for emergencies, beds in isolation units for patients with contagious diseases, as well as beds in paediatric wards that are set aside for young children.

Image credit: Straits Times
Image credit: Straits Times

According to the Ministry of Health (MOH), the average bed occupancy at public hospitals has seen a decrease from 88% in 2013 to 85% last year, but occupancy rates went back to an average 88% in the last month.

TTSH, which has the busiest emergency department in the country with roughly 3,000 patients each week, has seen a weekly average of 93.3%, with bed occupancies above 97% on two days in the last week of March.

Many hospitals struggle to cope with overwhelming demand

However, TTSH is not the only health facility that is struggling to meet demands. "Certain regional hospitals such as Changi General Hospital (CGH), Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH) and TTSH may experience higher bed occupancy rates from time to time,” said a MOH spokesperson.

According to CGH, 80% of its hospital beds are occupied by patients from the ED, but patients who have to wait in the ED for admission in the wards "continue to receive treatment, nursing care, clinical monitoring and other services".

"Facilities at the ED include the Observation Ward and the Short Stay Unit, which enable the care teams to observe and treat patients who may not need an inpatient stay,” said a CGH spokesperson.

Similarly, KTPH has expanded its Early Diagnostics and Treatment at the ED to improve management in bed occupancies, by allowing some patients to be observed and treated for up to 24 hours without being admitted to the ward.

Boosting career opportunities in healthcare to improve sector

While the MOH has revealed further plans to add more than 2,000 hospital beds by 2020, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong has also said that the ministry will recruit more mid-career Singaporeans as nurses through its Professional Conversion Programme (PCP).

The PCP has recruited over 400 individuals who were interested in making a career switch to nursing, physio and occupational therapy, diagnostic radiography and assisting in dental surgery since 2009.

Of the 223 who were recruited between 2009 and 2011, "82 per cent have completed their training and were successfully placed into a healthcare job,” Gan said, adding that 92% of these individuals have stayed on after completing the minimum service period required.

Besides increasing funds to provide these nurses with professional and on-the-job training, the ministry will also introduce master’s degree scholarships for non-nursing graduates to pursue studies in nursing abroad. To date, 54 scholarships have been awarded to existing non-clinical workers in healthcare institutions to train in nursing or other allied healthcare professions.

According to Gan, healthcare employers can recruit mid-career administrators through the Workforce Singapore’s PCP.

"In addition, those with managerial experience and are planning to switch to the community care sector can be placed on the senior management associate scheme and under training provided by AIC and the employers,” he said. MIMS

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