Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the launch of ARISE and CePHaS, 6 May

NTU President, Professor Bertil Andersson

Ladies and gentlemen 

1.            A very good afternoon.  It is my pleasure to welcome you for the launch of the Ageing Research Institute of Society and Education (ARISE) and the Centre for Population Health Sciences (CePHaS) this afternoon. 

UNLOCKING OPPORTUNITIES FROM AGEING 

2.            Singapore is ageing rapidly. Between now and 2030, we will witness a most profound demographic shift.  In 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 years or older compared to just one in eight today. 

3.            Of course there is an easy solution, just redefine ageing to 75, but in reality, it is not so easy. Population Ageing is a result of lower fertility rates, but it also reflects expanding longevity, which is a good thing. The better news is that while we are living longer, we are also living healthier for longer. Between 1990 and 2013, our healthy life expectancy improved by 5.5 years for males and 4.9 years for females. 

4.            In preparation for an ageing population, the Government has put in place several measures in recent years.  We introduced Medishield Life last year to provide better protection for our seniors, some of whom could not purchase any health insurance due to their age or pre-existing conditions. We have also stepped up subsidies at the Specialist Outpatient Clinics as well as drug subsidies at the Specialist Outpatient Clinics and Polyclinics.  We also introduced the Pioneer Generation package in 2014 to celebrate the achievements of our pioneers as well as to ensure our seniors can continue to afford their healthcare services. We have provided over $600m in pioneer generation benefits to more than 400,000 pioneers since 2014, in the form of additional outpatient subsidies, assistance with long-term care needs, Medisave top-ups and MediShield Life premium subsidies. In addition, the lower income seniors among us will be receiving their Silver Support in July. 

5.            While we try to address the concerns of our seniors on one hand, I believe we must go one step further, to find ways to unlock the creativity and talents of our senior population and to leverage on technology to enable our population to age well and maximise their health and longevity. 

6.            We want to encourage everyone to adopt a positive attitude towards ageing. Ageing is not about decline. It is about continuous growth and new opportunities. 

Action Plan for Successful Ageing 

7.            This is the very reason why the Ministerial Committee on Ageing launched the Action Plan for Successful Ageing in August last year. The Action Plan covers more than 70 initiatives over 12 areas and is a result of a whole-of-society effort to formulate a coherent blueprint to chart our journey towards a Nation for All Ages. The Action Plan has three key objectives. 

8.            First, to help individuals maximise the opportunities that come with longevity. As part of the Action Plan, seniors can look forward to a new National Seniors’ Health Programme to help them age healthily and actively. We want to actively reach out to seniors and raise their awareness on key health issues such as nutrition, exercise and falls prevention, at community centres and other social community spaces near them. In doing so, we want to empower seniors to proactively take charge of their own health so that they can enjoy the many exciting opportunities in their silver years. 

9.            In our conversations with them, many seniors have shared that they would like to continue to learn and actively contribute to society in their silver years. The National Silver Academy is now open for seniors 50 years and above to enrol in various courses. This academy will offer seniors more than 10,000 learning places and 500 courses to choose from this year. These courses will also be affordable. Seniors will receive up to 50% subsidy for short courses offered by our post-secondary education institutions, and may also choose to attend selected modules from existing degree or diploma programmes without having to take exams. 

10.         We have also seen the positive contribution that seniors can make to society as volunteers. To empower seniors to make positive improvements and contributions to our society, we set up a Silver Volunteer Fund with a target size of $40 million to help community organisations better recruit, train and recognise these senior volunteers. 

11.         Our second objective is to foster an inclusive and caring community for our seniors to age in. To pre-empt loneliness and social isolation, we will be developing Active Ageing Hubs in new housing developments, which can provide a suite of active ageing activities, assisted living and care services for our seniors. We will also be co- locating eldercare and childcare facilities together to foster inter generational bonding. 

12.         Our third objective is to create a city for all ages, which can enable our seniors to move around safely and age gracefully in place for as long as they can.  The Action Plan includes a suite of initiatives covering a wide range of areas, such as transport, parks and design guidelines, to make our city senior friendly. 

13.         MOH is also expanding the capacity of aged care services and transforming our care delivery system to help seniors fulfil their aspirations to age in place. In particular, we will implement a new Home and Community Masterplan this year which we announced earlier during our budget debate. MOH will introduce new home and day care integrated care packages that bundle home based care and centre based care together to serve needs of seniors more holistically. We are also working to empower domestic helpers to better help families care for the seniors through better training. We have also stepped up efforts to support caregivers in their caregiving efforts, which include making respite care more accessible to caregivers, improving care navigation to aged care services as well as enhancing subsidies to help defray the costs of caregiving.  For example, we have introduced a Foreign Domestic Worker Grant and lowered the concessionary levy so that it is more affordable for caregivers of frail seniors to hire foreign domestic helpers.  

NATIONAL INNOVATION CHALLENGE 

14.         The Action Plan is the first step to chart a path for successful Ageing in Singapore. This is not the end but just a beginning. We must continue to make improvements. In particular, we can seek to redefine the future experience of Ageing through research and innovation. 

15.         To foster more opportunities for multi-disciplinary research on ageing, we launched the National Innovation Challenge (NIC) on Active and Confident Ageing in August last year. This NIC focuses on three research thrusts. First, we want to lengthen the “health span” of Singaporeans by finding better ways of delaying the onset of disease and disability so that our seniors can continue to lead active lives even in their silver years. Second, we want to unlock the talent, energies and productivity in longevity through research and innovation in work as well as learning. Third, for seniors who are more frail, we want to leverage on research in technology to help seniors age in place with dignity. 

16.         To date, we have launched two grant calls to crowd source the best multi-disciplinary solutions in areas like greater productivity in home care for our seniors, and how we can increase healthy life span, by delaying the onset of dementia or caring for seniors with dementia in the community.  Together, these two grant calls drew over 100 proposals. 

17.         Moving forward, we will launch our third grant call under the NIC later this year. The ‘Ageless Workplaces’ Innovation Grant supported by the Tripartite Committee on the Employability of Older Workers seeks to find game-changing solutions that will help our older workers remain employable for as long as they wish to. We are also looking for ground-breaking solutions that can enhance the productivity and health of our older workers. Through this grant, we hope that innovative solutions will create an impact on our workplaces, so that they can truly become ‘ageless’. At the end of the day, research findings must be translatable and work on the ground, so that we can reap the benefits of research. 

18.         On this note, I am encouraged to see that our universities and the academic fraternity are responding positively to the Action Plan and I would like to commend NTU on joining this effort with the launch of the two multi-disciplinary centres today.  Like the Geriatrics Education and Research Institute (GERI) and the Duke-NUS Centre for Ageing Research and Education (CARE) which were established in the past few years, ARISE and CePhaS will similarly take on a multi-disciplinary approach towards the issues of ageing and population health. 

19.         Both ARISE and CePhaS will draw talented researchers from various disciplines to work together on research on ageing and population health sciences. ARISE will act as a governing and coordinating body to incorporate NTU’s current research, education and implementation efforts and initiate new programmes and focus areas for a holistic, multi-disciplinary and rigorous approach towards addressing issues of an ageing population. More importantly, ARISE can add value to the ageing research sphere by drawing strengths in its technology and engineering programme to pursue innovative solutions to help seniors age in place confidently. CePHaS will also draw multi-disciplinary experts from NTU to focus on areas such as digital health and end of life care, all new areas that can bring useful discoveries into the lives of families, communities and populations. 

20.         We look forward to active participation from research institutes such as ARISE and CePHAS in partnering our enterprises to co-create innovative and impactful solutions together. 

CONCLUSION 

21.         I am confident that the establishment of ARISE and CePHaS will enrich our understanding of ageing, and offer solutions that will help us to age gracefully and confidently as a society.  Once again, congratulations. 

22.         Thank you. 

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