Speech by Minister for Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong at the inaugural Medical Social Work Symposium, 14 April 2012, at the NTU Alumni Club

“Borderless” Social Work: Partnering the Community and Clients

Good morning ladies and gentlemen.

1    I am pleased to join you at your inaugural inspirational series. I am told that Medical Social Workers (MSWs) usually keep up-to-date with one another through the Healthcare Social Work platform and you constantly think about how you can work better. Today’s symposium will be the first among many, that will see MSWs gather together to network, to share and learn good practices within the profession. This commitment to lifelong learning and professional development is indeed commendable. It not only demonstrates the professionalism amongst you, but is crucial to ensuring that you can continue to be effective in responding to the changing health and social care landscape in Singapore.

2    Medical Social Work has come a long way since its early colonial days when “almoners” worked tirelessly in hospitals to meet social needs of the ill. Today, there are more than 400 MSWs in Singapore working in restructured hospitals, specialist centres, community hospitals, nursing homes and case management services, assisting patients and their families with financial help, providing practical and social support when they are in need.

3    MSWs today form an integral part of the medical team to care and support patients in diverse ways. Besides conducting psycho-social assessments of patients and their support systems, you provide counseling support for patients who have difficulties coping with their illnesses or financial hardship. You also play an important role in discharge planning and helping patients and families gain access to relevant community organizations and resources. The work of a medical social worker is definitely not episodic, and your involvement with patient care can stretch over a period of time. For example take the case of David. David (this is not his real name) was 18 years old when he was diagnosed with leukaemia and required a bone marrow transplant. His condition met with complications, which warranted admission to the intensive care unit. During his hospitalization, David’s family underwent a trying period. His parents were grateful for the psychosocial support that was rendered to them by the Haematology MSW team from SGH, who were taking care of David. Ms Olivia Choo and Ms Kathleen Cheung from the SGH Haematology MSW team assisted his family in working out a discharge plan, as it was David’s desire to be home with his family. Besides assisting with the care-givers training and access to community resources that David’s parents required, the MSW team also helped to raise funds to help David obtain a home ventilator. When David was discharged, he could not continue with many of the activities that he used to engage in. The MSW team helped him with alternative activities to occupy his time meaningfully.

4    MSWs have the compassionate heart to care, ability to juggle caseloads and the tenacity to navigate through health and social issues holistically yet in a professional way. As we progress towards a multidisciplinary and inter-agency approach to rendering patient care, MSWs will have to work more closely with external service partners beyond the hospital and the institutions that you belong to, to enable integrated care for the patient and caregivers. I believe MSWs will make a difference across the acute, intermediate and long-term care sectors given your skills and expertise in managing complex social cases.

5    To help us face the challenges and complex demands that come with a growing and ageing population, healthcare services and capacity would need to grow in tandem. By 2020, the manpower demand for MSWs is expected to double today’s numbers. While we make progressive efforts to enhance the capacity and affordability of healthcare, it is vital that we develop a strong base of qualified healthcare workers to deliver quality care. We will continue to support MSWs and enable the MSW community to provide quality patient care services, including areas that you would like more training, development and professional support.

6    Funding is available to assist the development of a competency framework for your profession. Besides the work of MSWs within the acute care hospitals, there should also be growing awareness of your contribution in the ILTC sector. Thus the competency framework for MSWs should not be restricted to hospitals but across the sectors to enable a rewarding career path.

7    Over the next 5 years, the government will invest $3.8 M out of which $1.8 million will be for undergraduate and mid-term scholarships for Medical Social Work students and $2 million to support clinical, professional and leadership development initiatives. There will also be more opportunities for MSWs to undertake advanced skills training to deepen their expertise, either locally or at renowned centres overseas. For example in 2008, Mr Roger Tan, MSW from IMH, obtained a HMDP scholarship to Monash University. He obtained a Masters degree in Social Work, with a specialization in Forensic Behavioral Science. Since his return, Roger has led the Forensic Social Work team at IMH. He is currently the lead MSW in the Mandatory Treatment Order Programme, which is a new service introduced to help offenders with mental health conditions receive timely treatment at IMH instead of ending in the prison.

8    Indeed MSWs can be a beacon of hope for the community where their compassionate understanding and professional skill can give comfort and hope to many. They play an important role in our efforts to build an inclusive society.

9    I look forward to an excellent and growing MSW profession, ready to partner our healthcare institutions and professionals to take on the challenges in providing good and affordable healthcare services to our people. I wish you a happy and productive time of learning at the symposium.

 

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