Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the Official Launch of the Eastern Health Alliance, Friday, 18 November 2011, 10.30am

1    Good morning everyone.  I am happy to witness the launch of the Eastern Health Alliance.  This is a key milestone in our efforts to integrate and improve our healthcare system.  I wish to congratulate the founding members, Changi General Hospital, The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home, SingHealth Polyclinics and St. Andrew’s Community Hospital on their achievement.

The Impetus for Change
2    Today, the health issues that we have to grapple with are becoming more complex, due largely to our rapidly ageing population, longer life expectancies and changing lifestyles.  Specifically, chronic diseases and other long-term medical conditions are becoming the dominant reality of our health landscape, a trend common to all developed countries. As our society becomes more developed, Singaporeans’ healthcare expectations have also risen.

3    Against this backdrop, our healthcare policies and solutions cannot remain static. We must continue to develop new and better models of delivering healthcare so that patients continue to receive quality and affordable care that is also cost-effective and sustainable in the long run.

Towards a Patient-Centred Care Experience
4    As we reshape our healthcare system to meet the future challenges, one thing is clear – a healthcare provider’s responsibility towards its patients cannot end when the patients leave its premises.  For example, elderly patients are more likely to have multiple chronic ailments that require ongoing treatment and monitoring, and would appreciate being cared for by a doctor in the community rather than in the hospital.  In this regard, our programmes and initiatives must keep this preference in mind.

5    On a practical level, this means that healthcare institutions and service providers in the region must work together as a team to coordinate their services seamlessly so that they deliver the appropriate care at the right setting to meet the needs of the patient.  These range from health promotion and disease prevention, to extending care beyond the acute hospital to integrate with the community hospital, nursing homes, polyclinics and private GPs, so that we can take care of Singaporeans holistically  within the community.  In recent years, the Ministry of Health has been working towards re-organising and re-orientating our healthcare delivery systems from a regional perspective to achieve this vision.

An Integrated Healthcare System for the Eastern Region
6    The Eastern Health Alliance is an example of an innovative model that brings us closer to this vision of patient-centric and seamless care.  Working in concert as a network of partners in the Eastern region, the members of the Alliance, Changi General Hospital, The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home, SingHealth Polyclinics and St. Andrew’s Community Hospital, seek to provide a comprehensive range of services to their patients and ensure that the patient’s needs are met at different stages of the health journey.  The members will also collaborate closely to help patients move smoothly across various care settings and receive appropriate care through the development of shared clinical pathways and care protocols.  This will make healthcare more hassle-free, convenient and reassuring for residents.

7    In this regard, the Memorandum of Understanding that will be signed later this morning represents a crucial step to formalise the collaborative arrangements between the founding members.  While there has been a number of bilateral MOUs signed between the restructured hospitals and community hospitals, this is the first multi-party MOU being signed by providers at each care setting, covering a primary care provider, regional general hospital, community hospital and nursing home.  It underscores their mutual commitment and shared responsibility to deliver quality care to patients in a seamless, coordinated manner.  It also provides an important platform for the members of the Alliance to further build trust and understanding amongst them, tap on each other’s strengths and expertise and to structure relationships that are sustainable in the long term.  I understand that the MOU is not an exclusive arrangement.  I therefore encourage more healthcare providers within the Eastern region to work with the Eastern Health Alliance.  Similarly, MOH will continue to encourage healthcare institutions and service providers in other parts of Singapore to engage one another and to work out innovative, effective and viable models of collaboration.

8    Since the middle of 2010, the founding members of the Eastern Health Alliance have rolled out various integrated care programmes.  In the area of preventive care, the Eastern Community Health Outreach programme, or ECHO, was piloted in the Changi-Simei constituency in partnership with grassroots organisations.  ECHO offers health screening, coaching and healthy lifestyle activities for residents in the region.

9    The Health Management Unit, or HMU, was set up to assist patients who need help to manage their long-term conditions.  These patients receive professional advice from nurse tele-carers on medication, diet and lifestyle.  They also learn how to monitor their condition and observe any signs of deterioration.  The HMU started with diabetes patients and the preliminary results have been quite encouraging.  I am pleased to note that the HMU will be extending its services beyond diabetes to COPD and heart disease in the near future.

10    Another key initiative is the Community Health Centre, or CHC, which was set up in Tampines to support the GPs in the management of chronic diseases in the community.  The CHC is helmed by senior nurses and allied health professionals, and provides essential services for chronic disease management, such as eye and foot screening, monitoring and health education.  The Ministry of Health, together with the public healthcare clusters, is seeking feedback from GPs to assess the demand for similar centres in other parts of Singapore, and to determine what services these centres can provide to support the GPs in their communities.

11    Through these programmes, we hope to achieve early detection, timely follow-up and active management of chronic diseases, we can help patients delay or even avoid complications for many years.  

12    I also understand that the Eastern Health Alliance will be rolling out more programmes to strengthen the intermediate and long term care sectors.   Changi General Hospital and St Andrew’s Community Hospital have been working closely over the past several years and signed a bilateral MOU on clinical care collaboration last December.  Patients in CGH whose conditions have stabilised and no longer require acute care are transferred to SACH for rehabilitation and continuing care.  The close proximity of the two institutions helps to facilitate better integration of care for SACH patients through shared medical records and clinical support, including consultations by visiting CGH specialists.

13    In addition to this stronger collaboration between the acute and community hospitals, the Eastern Health Alliance will be starting to pilot a Transitional Convalescent Facility, or TCF, in a 32-bedded ward at The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home in December.  The TCF provides slow stream rehabilitation for elderly patients who are discharged from hospitals so that they can regain enough functionality to lead their normal lives as far as possible back in their own homes.  The TCF plugs an existing service gap between the more intensive rehabilitation provided by community hospitals and the custodial care provided by existing nursing homes.  With the TCF, we expect that more patients will be restored to health and strength, and be able to return to their families in the comfort of their homes earlier.  

Conclusion
14    The Eastern Health Alliance intends to grow its network of members and partners in the region.  I am eager to see how we can study the Alliance’s results, identify what works well, and share them across other regions to benefit Singaporeans.  When all is said and done, the objective must be to improve each patient’s health journey so that they can stay healthy and better manage their medical conditions over the long term.

15    On this note, let me once again extend my appreciation to the founding members of the Eastern Health Alliance, Changi General Hospital, The Salvation Army Peacehaven Nursing Home, SingHealth Polyclinics and St. Andrew’s Community Hospital, for your dedication and commitment towards achieving a truly integrated regional health system.  This is the beginning of a long but worthwhile journey, and I look forward to supporting and celebrating the Eastern Health Alliance’s success in time to come.

Thank you.

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