Government to focus on healthcare manpower planning to cater to rising demand

As Singapore ramps up the number of healthcare institutions under its Masterplan 2020, a main challenge is to beef up its healthcare workforce. 

Deputy Chair of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Fatimah Lateef, said manpower planning is of utmost importance to meeting the increasing demand for healthcare services. 

The demand for healthcare workers is expected to grow from 50,000 in 2011 to 91,000 in 2030, according to the National Population and Talent Division. 

Of these - 28,000 are projected to be foreign healthcare workers, up from 13,000 in 2011. 

And filling up these jobs remains an uphill task. 

Deputy Chair for Health GPC, Dr Fatimah Lateef 

"For an emergency department which sees about 500-600 patients a day, we are really understaffed at a tertiary level. So I think in primary health as well at polyclinics, we need to boost this as well. Now with an ageing population and with community, step-down care and long-term care, to just rely on local manpower alone, I don't think we'll be able to cope. We certainly need to supplement this with foreign manpower.
So to draw more into this sector - a suggestion was to make the jobs more appealing."

Dr Fatimah again: 

"Salary is one thing but I think the training that we provide for some of these people, whether it's before-the-job or on-the-job training, actually it's something which is important and we have to plan it properly. Because people in healthcare are looking for career tracks where they can increase their capability with their skills and knowledge. And there are actually people who want to go for further degrees and higher qualifications as well. So I think if we can have something palatable and attractive to them besides just the salary which is competitive, we might be able to attract more of these people."

Some hospitals are already crafting their jobs to make them more attractive. 

Advanced Practice Nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital Tan Soak Buay: 

"We are given more recognition where nurses can attend more courses to upgrade themselves. They have diploma, degree, masters, and even PhD level courses. The other thing is the working hours are very important. In the nursing profession, mainly we are women. We are now given more flexible hours such as from a six-day work week to a five-day work week."

Another area that needs improvement is health literacy among Singaporeans. 

"The health literacy rate is relatively low and this is one of the root causes of people developing a lot of chronic illnesses and not managing them well and developing complications. And now that we are living longer, these complications will surface even more in the later years, and this will actually cause a heavier burden to healthcare. So they are all interlinked. So I think if we can actually create awareness and improve our health literacy, do more outreach, more preventive health, stronger primary healthcare system - all these will hopefully have some results on the other end."

And to make care in terms of rehabilitation, step-down care and also preventive healthcare more accessible to seniors, Dr Fatimah suggested having a satellite fund from Medisave. 

"There are still people asking whether they can not or they need not pay out of pocket for some of these things. So I think we could consider in the coming years to set aside a kind of satellite fund from Medisave to see whether these can be utilised by the seniors to do some of these primary health related things that they need to do in the community so that it will encourage them to come out as well."

Another issue that made headlines this year was doctors' misconduct especially when it involved aesthetic medicine. 

One suggestion made by her was to have a register of all the appropriate plastic surgeons who are qualified to do the procedures, hence making it easier for patients to make the right choice. 

"One other way to go is to have a register of all the appropriate plastic surgeons who are qualified on the specialist register to do all these procedures, and then all the rest who are not recognised on the register should not be doing such procedures. This is to go the strict way."

However, she added that it's easier to regulate more complicated procedures unlike the simpler ones.

-By Vimita Mohandas