Speech by Minister for Health, Mr Gan Kim Yong, at the Ground-breaking Ceremony of the New Assisi Hospice, 29 July 2013

His Grace, the Most Reverend Monsignor William Goh, Archbishop of Singapore,
Mdm Ho Ching, Patron, Assisi Hospice,
Sr. Barbara Pereira, Regional Leader, Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood,
Mr. Ronny Tan, Chairman of the Assisi Hospice Board,
Associate Professor Premarani Kannusamy, Chief Executive Officer, Assisi Hospice,
Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Introduction

1. It is my pleasure to be here today for the official ground-breaking ceremony of the new Assisi Hospice. This is a significant occasion, especially for the many here who have personally been involved in conceptualising and shaping the development of the new Assisi Hospice.

2. Forty-four years ago, Assisi Hospice was established by the Sisters of the Franciscan Missionaries of the Divine Motherhood. It now cares for over a thousand patients with life-limiting illnesses every year, through their inpatient hospice, day care, and home care programmes.

Assisi’s new hospice to meet growing needs

3. Nationally, the number of patients needing end-of-life care has been growing every year, and our hospice care providers in Singapore now serve about five to six thousand patients. As our population ages, there will be more people living with advanced cancer and chronic diseases, and by 2020, we can expect to have more than 10,000 Singaporeans in need of end-of-life care.

4. The new Assisi Hospice is thus timely to support the needs of the community, not only with increased capacity for more patients, but also in catering to the special needs of paediatric and patients with life-limiting illness and concomitant dementia. The new hospice will more than double its current capacity to 85 inpatient beds, which will include a specialised 16-bedded ward for dementia patients requiring palliative care, and a dedicated paediatric palliative care ward. Both of these will be the first of their kind in Singapore. The new hospice will also have a larger day care centre which will be able to serve 50 patients, 20 more than before.

Hospice – a home away from home

5. Apart from capacity enhancements, the new hospice will also incorporate the natural elements of sunlight, fresh air, water and greenery, for a more soothing and conducive environment. This plays an important role in ensuring that patients are cared for in a manner that preserves personal dignity, while also supporting family members as they see their loved ones through the last phase of their lives. Just a few months ago in April, a relative of a patient who passed away at Assisi Hospice wrote in the Straits Times that the hospice was “where [his] family spent many hours. [They] shared meals, stories, hopes, aspirations, laughter and tears around his bed”. Building a hospice is not like building a hospital. The challenge is to build a hospice that can feel like a home, so that patients who are unable to be supported at home, can have a  peaceful and restful place to spend their final days meaningfully.

Dying-in-Place

6. For many dying patients, their wish is still to pass away at home, in the company of family and loved ones, in familiar  surroundings. We will help these patients to receive quality care in their last days in the community through the expansion of home palliative care services.

7. In addition to the expansion of its inpatient capacity, Assisi Hospice is also increasing its number of home palliative care teams from three to five, which will help 500 more patients. The delivery of such care extends beyond medical and nursing support, to also address the emotional, mental and psychosocial needs of both the patient and his or her family members.

Caregiver Support and Training

8. Often, family members and caregivers struggle with the experience of caring for, and watching a loved one pass on. It is hence important to involve and support them and if they so choose, empower them so that they are better able to care for their loved ones. Assisi will offer training in caregiving skills to family members at its Centre for Palliative Care Education and Therapy, and to encourage families to spend as much time as possible with their loved ones. It will also provide family rooms for them to stay the night in the hospice. Finally, when patients pass on, bereavement support will be provided for those left behind. By providing support to family members throughout and even after the patient’s final days, the hospice can help families to better cope with the loss of their loved ones.

9. Lastly, I note that Assisi will be significantly ramping up its training for volunteers and healthcare professionals, and the new hospice will have dedicated training facilities to support this. I look forward to seeing Assisi Hospice develop into a centre of excellence in training and education in palliative care, and continue delivering high quality, evidence-based palliative care to the community.

Tribute to Nurses

10. With only 3 days away from the Nurses’ Day, I would also like to pay tribute to the nurses gathered here today as they celebrate 44 years of caring for patients. These unsung heroes have gone beyond the call of their duty to reach out and care for patients both at the hospice, and also in the community. They travel at all hours of the day to attend to the final needs of palliative care patients, and by doing this, have brought love, hope and meaning to patients and their families. I would like to take this opportunity to thank them, because so much of the effort required to care for patients and families falls on their shoulders.

11. I also understand that as part of their Nurses’ Day celebrations, the Assisi nurses have come together to develop three evidence-based guidelines, to assist them in their goal of delivering care based on scientific evidence. I commend them on their initiative to integrate evidence-based knowledge into their work, and hope that these standards will help them to achieve the best practices in palliative care.

Conclusion

12. In closing, I congratulate Assisi Hospice on its ground-breaking today, and look forward to the completion of the new hospice which will enable Assisi to deliver compassionate, quality palliative care to many more patients and their families, and for many more years to come.

13. Thank you.

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