SPEECH BY DR AMY KHOR, SENIOR MINISTER OF STATE (HEALTH), AT THE ANNUAL SCIENTIFIC CONFERENCE ON AGEING 2014, MARINA MANDARIN HOTEL, ON 27 MAR 2014, 8.30AM

“ Let’s Talk About Ageing”

Professor Goh Lee Gan, President of the Gerontological Society of Singapore

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

INTRODUCTION

1.         Good morning. I am delighted to join you at this Annual Scientific Conference on Ageing 2014. The theme of this year’s conference is especially appropriate, as more and more countries in Asia Pacific, including Singapore, experience an ageing population.

SUCCESSFUL AGEING: A COLLECTIVE EFFORT

2.            Ageing is the single most significant demographic change that impacts all societies. Asia Pacific is at the forefront of the global ageing phenomenon. It is estimated that the number of older persons in the region will triple from 419 million in 2010 to more than 1.2 billion by 2050. Singapore is no exception. By 2030, one in five residents will be over the age of 65, almost double from one in nine today.

3.            Yet, despite these sobering statistics, I think we don’t talk about ageing enough. Dr Lam Pin Min, Chairman of Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, at the Committee of Supply debate earlier this month, suggested that we should have a national conversation on ageing. I think this is a great idea. Ageing is what we make of it, as individuals and as a society.

4.            As individuals, the good news is that we are all living longer.  This means that we can experience and do more things. So we should think and talk about what we aspire our silver years to be. What do we hope to be doing? How do we want to live? How do we want to be cared for?

5.            As a society, what do we aspire our society to look and feel like, when more of us are older? What does successful ageing mean and how do we know that we have achieved it as a society?

6.            It is a conversation involving all of us, not just the older Singaporeans among us.  Each one of us needs to plan for our own successful ageing. Each one of us, as employers, as professionals, and as citizens, should also talk about what we can each contribute, to build a society that supports successful ageing for all of us, since we will all eventually age.

7.            As individuals, how do we want to manage our own health, our finances and our employment, if we want to live longer and happier lives? As employers, how do we leverage on the experience of our senior workforce and empower them to achieve higher productivity? As urban planners and architects, what can we imagine for our housing and our city - that will allow us to live autonomous and active lives as we age? As medical professionals and scientists, how can we innovate in the area of healthcare to enable us to be healthier even as we get older? As citizens, how can we do our part to build a more gracious and loving society where our seniors are valued and loved?

A VIBRANT SOCIETY OF LONGER LIVES

8.            The government has been making consistent efforts to prepare for successful ageing. We aspire for seniors to be able to celebrate and enjoy their longevity to the maximum. This means helping them stay healthy so that they can continue to be physically, mentally and socially active. To this end, we have strongly promoted health literacy, active ageing, lifelong learning and employment.

9.            For instance, the People’s Association has progressively rolled out the Wellness Programme to all 87 constituencies in Singapore since 2012 to encourage seniors to stay physically active and have regular health screenings. Interest groups for activities such as gardening, chess and karaoke have also been set up to allow seniors to pursue their interests and stay socially connected with like-minded seniors. To date, the Wellness Programme has reached out to some 310,000 seniors, and is on track to meet its goal of reaching out to 1 in 2 citizens aged 50 and above by 2015.

10.         We have also made efforts to enhance lifelong employment. The Retirement and Re-Employment Act took effect in 2012 to help workers work beyond the statutory minimum retirement age of 62. The re-employment age is currently 65, and we are considering increasing it, possibly to 67. Several initiatives have also been introduced to encourage employers to tap on older workers - WorkPro was introduced in 2013 to support companies in their effort to do job-redesign, on-the-job training, recruitment and retention of older workers. The Special Employment Credit scheme introduced in 2011 also provides employers with support to hire older Singaporean workers.

11.         When seniors eventually do get more frail, we want to give them the flexibility and autonomy to choose how and where they would like to age and receive the care when they need it. We also need to give seniors peace of mind in terms of paying for their healthcare needs.

12.         Hence, over the past couple of years, we have embarked on an ambitious expansion of aged care facilities and services to prepare to support our seniors to age gracefully in place. We are on track to expand our nursing home capacity by about 50% from 10,000 beds today to some 15,600 beds by 2020. This year, we announced our plans to expand home-based and centre based care services, as well as new initiatives to expand respite care to support caregivers. By 2020, we plan to achieve a capacity of 10,000 places for home-based healthcare services and 7,500 places for home-based personal care, and 6,200 day care places.

13.         In tandem, we have made progress in raising the standards of care. Over the past 3 years, we have developed new standards, as well as services guidelines to articulate what good aged care means in nursing homes, in home care and in day care centres. We will be working hand in hand with providers in the years ahead to enhance their capabilities to achieve these care standards.

14.         We have also made a bold effort at addressing healthcare and aged care affordability. We are making three major shifts to enhance healthcare affordability – increasing the Government’s share of the national healthcare expenditure, gradually expanding Medisave use and increasing risk-pooling. One significant initiative is the enhancement of Medishield to Medishield Life. This includes extending coverage to the very elderly to give them greater peace of mind that they have support for their healthcare costs. The Pioneer Generation package which was announced at Budget this year will also extend help to eligible seniors to ensure that they are well-covered and need not worry about healthcare during their silver years. The Pioneer Generation package will include additional subsidies for treatment at Specialist Outpatient Clinics and polyclinics. All Pioneer Generation seniors will be placed on the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS), where they can enjoy subsidies at participating private GP and dental clinics. In addition to annual Medisave top-ups ranging from $200 to $800, Pioneer Generation seniors will also receive a subsidy for their MediShield Life premiums, starting from 40% at age 65 and rising to 60% at age 90. We have also enhanced the subsidies for intermediate and long term care in 2012, and expanded the Seniors Mobility Fund last year, to empower seniors to age gracefully in place.

CONCLUSION

15.         We need and will do more. However, to achieve successful ageing in Singapore requires each one of us to contribute and work together. The government cannot do this alone. We need the society to come together as a whole to do this. Ageing is a complex issue and the strategies to achieve successful ageing have to be by necessity, multi-dimensional and multi-disciplinary in nature.

16.         I would like to commend the Gerontological Society of Singapore for doing its part to catalyse dialogue and action towards the goal of achieving successful ageing, by organizing this important conference today. The Conference today is an excellent platform for local and international experts to share best practices in successful ageing, and I am delighted that some 200 stakeholders in elder well-being and health -- medical, nursing, allied health, caregivers, government organisations, VWO organisations and eldercare industry -- are all here today to participate and lend their voices and ideas to this cause. I am sure that through dialogue and discussions, we can co-create new opportunities and solutions to help our respective societies achieve successful ageing.

17.         I wish you all a fruitful conference.

18.         Thank you.

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