Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the World Confederation for Physical Therapy Congress 2015, 1 May 2015

Dr Marilyn Moffat, World Confederation of Physical Therapy (WCPT) President

A/Prof Celia Tan, Singapore Physiotherapy Association (SPA) President

Distinguished Physiotherapist Leaders,

Ladies and gentlemen,

1.             I welcome all of you to this year’s World Confederation of Physical Therapy Congress. I am pleased that the WCPT has chosen to hold their international congress here in Singapore for the very first time.

2.             It is inspiring to see physiotherapists gathered here from all over the world to discuss new and exciting developments in evidence-based physiotherapy practice. This is a great opportunity for participating physiotherapists and healthcare partners to share your knowledge and experience, and to learn from one another.

Growing Importance of Physiotherapists in Caring for Ageing Populations

3.             Indeed, it will become increasingly important that countries learn from each other as we face a common challenge of caring for an ageing population.  We must plan for strategies to keep our elderly healthy and fit, so that they can remain engaged and active for as long as possible. And physiotherapists have a key role to play – they help maintain the well-being of our elderly, and in the event of injury or illness, they help rehabilitate our elderly and speed up functional recovery.

4.             In Singapore, we have organised our physiotherapy services to meet the three main goals of our national Healthcare 2020 Masterplan which are Accessibility, Affordability and Quality. Let me touch on each briefly.

Accessibility


5.             First, on accessibility. In anticipation of the healthcare needs of an ageing population, Singapore has been expanding our community health services. A variety of physiotherapy services are available at Community Hospitals, Senior Care Centres, and some Family Medicine Clinics and Community Health Centres. This would allow more in the community to access physiotherapy services, with greater ease and convenience.

6.             Even as we expand our services, we have kept a firm eye on ensuring that we continue to train sufficient qualified physiotherapists. In the past decade, we have expanded our local training pipeline of physiotherapists by close to 50%, and we will continue to grow the intake further to meet our needs.  From 2016, the Singapore Institute of Technology will offer a four-year Bachelor of Science with Honours programme in physiotherapy. This will complement the one-year degree upgrading programme that it currently offers to diploma-trained physiotherapists. The degree level training will ensure that our physiotherapists are equipped with the knowledge and skills they need to treat the increasingly complex and chronic conditions that we expect to see in our ageing population.

7.             Beyond providing rehabilitative care, physiotherapists are also critical in our public education efforts, such as on injury and fall prevention. Preventive care is as important as rehabilitative care.  These upstream efforts can help reduce the number of patients who get injured and need therapy downstream, thereby reducing healthcare costs for our patients and keep them well.

Affordability

8.             Second, on affordability. Even as we expand access to physiotherapy services and enhance the quality of training offered to our physiotherapists, we must ensure that services remain affordable to those who need them.

9.             Our targeted subsidy framework ensures that patients in need of rehabilitation can afford and will get the therapy care they require, and that those with the highest need will receive the most help. In the community and home care settings, for example, patients can receive up to 75% in subsidies at Community Hospitals, or up to 80% for home therapy services or rehabilitation services at Senior Care Centres. As a final safety net, patients who are still unable to afford the cost of subsidised therapy care can tap on Medifund – an endowment fund set up by the Government to help needy Singaporeans who cannot pay for their medical expenses.

10.         At the same time, even as we provide subsidies to keep healthcare affordable, we must be careful to moderate cost increases as demand for services rise, to ensure long-term financial sustainability of the healthcare system. We are therefore reviewing our care model to better optimise the use of our available healthcare resources. For example, can we train therapy assistants to take on a wider scope of maintenance rehabilitation work, thus freeing the physiotherapists to focus on diagnosis and managing more complex rehabilitation cases?  

Quality

11.         Finally, on quality. Advances in technologies will enable us to enhance the quality of care offered to our patients. For example, some of our healthcare institutions have started using exercise monitoring devices to track whether patients have been following the prescribed therapy schedules. Tan Tock Seng Hospital has been using the robotic gait training systems such as the Lokomat system to aid in lower limb and ambulatory rehabilitation.  The use of such robotic systems allow rehabilitation programmes to be better customised to the patient’s needs and ability while enabling physiotherapists to focus on monitoring the patient’s well-being and performance during the training. One of our community hospitals, St Luke’s Hospital, has partnered with the Singapore Polytechnic to develop a robotic hand to help patients with stroke exercise.

12.         Beyond tapping on new technologies, we are also exploring innovative care models so that we can offer better and more convenient integrated care. For example, telerehab would allow more stable patients to receive a comparable level of care as they would in a healthcare setting but in the convenience of their own home, while saving on travelling time for our physiotherapists.

WCPT Congress 2015

13.         In conclusion, Singapore has embarked on efforts to enhance accessibility, affordability and quality of healthcare, with the patient’s needs at the centre. To succeed, we will require dedication, collaboration and innovation from our healthcare professionals, working together to improve the care and well-being of patients.  Therefore, physiotherapists will need to work more closely with their medical, nursing, and other paramedical counterparts in inter-professional care teams. To this end, I am heartened that the WCPT has recently launched a new award to recognise outstanding achievement in inter-professional collaborative practice.

14.         With the diversity and depth of topics in your Congress covering a spectrum of global and local issues, I am sure the Congress would have a stimulating and enriching discussion.

15.         To our friends from around the world, I hope that you will have a great time exploring the beautiful sights of our Garden City and have time to enjoy our local delicacies. On behalf of our Singapore physiotherapy colleagues, I want to congratulate the WCPT on the opening of their 17th congress and I wish you all a productive and rewarding time of learning and networking.

16.         Thank you.

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