Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA) Aged Care Sector Stakeholder's Dialogue on Friday 20 Jan 2012, 9.30AM, Concorde Hotel

Good morning.

Introduction

2.        I am very happy that all of us in the people, private and public sectors, who are involved in different aspects of aged care, can come together today. This is a valuable opportunity for us to discuss and share views, as an aged care sector, on the needs that we have to address, our common aspirations for the future, and how we can work together as a sector to make lives better for our seniors.

The Impetus to Act

3.        We need to act now. The first cohort of Baby Boomers turns 65 years old this year. By 2020, some 600,000 people will be above 65 years old, and from there, the pace of ageing will start to accelerate. 15% of our population will be above 65 years old by then.

4.        2020 is less than 10 years away. We must be ready when rapid ageing sets in. Now is the time to gear up and plan ahead – our services, our facilities and our capabilities -- to better support the evolving needs of our growing population of seniors.

Government’s Priorities

5.        On its part, the government will not only plan, but act, ahead to prepare for an ageing population. In the past few years, we have focused on promoting active ageing and have made much progress in this area. We have firmly entrenched the Wellness Programme in 42 constituencies and have reached out to some 100,000 Singaporeans. We have also put in place the Re-employment Act which comes into effect this year.

6.        Active Ageing will remain a priority going forward. More than 85% of the 600,000 seniors in 2020 are expected to be functional and healthy. We will be aggressively pushing for preventive screening and promoting a more healthy lifestyle among seniors, so that they can remain active and healthy for as long as possible.

7.        In addition to active aging, the other top priority for the Ministerial Committee on Ageing is enhancing aged care. In this, our goals are simple: access, quality and affordability. Let me elaborate.

8.        First, in view of the more rapid pace of ageing post-2020, we need to ramp up aged care services and facilities significantly. I am talking about a step change from what we have today.  We will have a spike in our senior population by 2020, and we can expect the care needs to increase post 2020. We cannot wait for the increase in needs to materialise before we start to build more facilities. It will be too late then because it takes several years to build the infrastructure and train the manpower.

9.        The government will plan ahead and invest the necessary resources to expand our aged care services. By 2020,

i) We want to at least double the outreach of home-based healthcare services from 4,000 today to up to 8,000 to 10,000.  We will also significantly increase the outreach of home-based social care from 2,000 today to up to 7,500.

ii) We will expand the number of day social and rehabilitative care places from 2,100 to about 6,200.

iii) We will increase manpower and resources to Seniors Activity Centres to serve up to 48,000 vulnerable seniors across the income strata, up from the 18,000 seniors served today. We are also increasing the number of Seniors Activity Centres from the current 42 today, so that we can reach out to a growing population of vulnerable seniors, beyond those living in rental flats.

iv) We will increase the number of nursing home beds by some 70%, from about 9,000 today to 15,600 by 2020.

10.      Second, we want to enhance quality and provide choice. We want to grow new care options, make care more seamless as well as to further raise the quality of care.  In particular, a key direction for us is to enhance care services to support the care of seniors at home or close to home. The best medical care in an institution cannot replace a family member’s love and support. So we will be growing and enhancing new care services, such as stronger transition care post discharge from hospitals, develop transitional convalescence facilities to rehabilitate seniors to return home and to grow home-based services to enable stable senior patients to be cared for at home. We will also support home palliative care services as well as home-based support for caregivers of senior patients with dementia.

11.      Of course, when the senior becomes very frail or where the senior has no one to care for him or her, we will still require good institutional care for them. Therefore, we should also aim to continually improve the standards of care in our nursing homes.

12.      Third, we have to make aged care affordable. We recognise that the cost of aged care can have a significant impact on the individual as well as family’s finances with a much longer period of care compared to the restructured hospitals. The total accumulated cost of supporting the elderly can be an issue even if the monthly bill may be much smaller than the acute hospital bill. Healthcare affordability and the adequacy of the savings to pay for care services are naturally concerns on the minds of many seniors.

13.      The Ministerial Committee on Ageing will, in parallel, be reviewing aged care financing schemes, and look into what can be done to make aged care more affordable.

Aged Care Sector Needs To Gear Up Quickly

14.      The key challenge to the aged care sector is how to achieve the ramp up in services and in time, to support a more rapidly ageing population. I appreciate that this is more easily said than done, especially given the real constraints that the aged care sector faces today, such as financial and manpower constraints.

15.      We have arranged this sharing and dialogue today precisely to hear your views and discuss new ways that we can work together to achieve a quantum leap in the access and quality of aged care within the next decade.

16.      Let me say upfront that the government is committed to do more to support the aged care sector to achieve this ramp up.  

17.      We are also prepared to help the sector scale in a number of other ways. First, the government is prepared to take the lead in the hardware development of aged care facilities. For instance, we are prepared to develop more aged care facilities, including day centers and nursing homes, under a Build-Own-Lease model. This, as reflected in feedback from some providers, will help them reduce the development cost so as to reduce the financial burden on the sector.

18.      Second, the government is prepared to work hand in hand with the sector in terms of aggregating demand and developing manpower for the sector. We hope to hear your ideas and work with the sector both in terms of the recruitment as well as the in-employment development of aged care manpower. 

19.      Third, we also hope to support the sector with efforts to constantly raise productivity. We are prepared to work with the sector to study how IT can be maximised as an enabler to achieve better integrated care, greater efficiency in tracking seniors’ needs and care outcomes and greater operational efficiency for operators.

Conclusion

20.      The government’s efforts alone will not be enough to get us there. The aged care sector really involves everyone here. Our leaders of the intermediate and long-term care sector who are present here play a pivotal role in charting the future direction of aged care. You are at the frontline and your work directly benefits many seniors now and in the future. The social work professionals and our grassroots leaders here also have a critical role to play, as a first touch point to extend care and assistance to seniors within the community, especially those living alone who may be at a higher risk of being socially isolated. There is also much scope for the hospitals to contribute in this area, in terms of working with organizations within the aged care sector to make care more seamless and patient-centred to seniors and their families.

21.      In short, we each have a role to play and collectively, we shape the future of aged care. We have a lot of work to do and we need to start today, to prepare to help a much larger population of seniors in the next decade age in place with grace and dignity.

22.      My colleagues and I look forward to hearing your views and our discussion on what we can do together. Thank you.

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