Speech by Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong at the Official Opening of the renovated Neonatal Intensive Care Unit at KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, 6 July

Prof Ivy Ng, Group Chief Executive Officer, Singhealth

Prof Kenneth Kwek, Chief Executive Officer, KKH

Parents, NICU ‘graduates’, and KKH staff

A very good morning.

Firstly, let me thank all of you for being here, especially the former patients of the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) Neonatal ICU (NICU). It gives me great pleasure to celebrate with you the opening of the expanded NICU.

Growing need for neonatal care

2 Good obstetric and perinatal care has contributed to the decline in our neonatal and perinatal mortality rates over the past ten years. Singapore’s neonatal mortality rate has fallen from 1.5 per 1,000 resident live births in 2000 to 1.1 in 2012. According to the World Health Organisation, this makes Singapore one of the countries with the lowest neonatal mortality rate.

3 While this is so, over the past two decades, the prematurity rate in Singapore has  ncreased from 7.2% to 9.5%, despite lower birth rates. This is probably brought about by evolving social and medical trends, such as an increase in maternal age, more couples opting for assisted reproduction, better monitoring during pregnancies and capabilities to provide earlier intervention for complicated pregnancies. Pre-term babies, especially those with very-low-birth-weight, are at higher risk of developing complications due to their extreme prematurity and low weight, and hence will require NICU care.

4 Over the past six years, we have seen an increase of about 14% in NICU admissions at public sector hospitals. KKH’s NICU is the main referral centre for newborn babies suffering from complex and high-risk medical conditions. It has been managing about 400 to 450 admissions a year, including full-term, as well as pre-term babies.

Expansion of KKH’s NICU capacity to serve needs

5 The expansion in KKH’s NICU capacity will enable the hospital to care for more babies requiring intensive support and care. This expansion is considerable, and will see the NICU housing 32 beds, up from the current 24, with another 8 beds to be added over the next few years.

6 The expanded facility has also been designed in a manner that further improves efficiency in monitoring this particularly vulnerable group of patients. It is also selfsufficient in terms of facilities to perform major surgeries and procedures on the newborn babies, thus minimizing the need and risks associated with moving sick babies out of the protected environment of the NICU.

7 The expanded NICU will thus enable KKH to assist newborn babies, including the very-low-birth-weight ones, to gain a better start in life. All these children, some of whom are here with us today, and their proud parents, are testimony to the commitment and care provided in the NICU. In fact, the first set of quintuplets born in Singapore, 16 years ago, are here with us today as well. I must commend KKH, the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals, on the good work they are doing.

Providing parents with greater peace of mind

8 In addition to enhancing capacity and medical capability, we also made improvements to our healthcare financing system to provide parents with greater peace of mind over their children’s healthcare costs. This is especially as the cost of care for premature babies and those with congenital conditions can be significant.

9 Earlier this year, my Ministry announced the extension of MediShield coverage to congenital and neonatal conditions from 1 March, to provide all children with early insurance protection from birth. Expanding MediShield coverage helps to better share the risk and provide increased protection against such unexpected and unfortunate events as we progress towards a more inclusive society. At the same time, we also introduced Medifund Junior to target more financial assistance for children from needy families. These changes will help defray the healthcare costs of children.

10 In closing, I would like to congratulate the KKH team on the newly expanded NICU, which will further the hospital’s efforts to continually raise the standards of care for its patients. Thank you.

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