Speech by Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health at the Caregivers Conference, 2 Sep 2017

Mr. Chew Sutat,
Chairman of Caregivers Alliance

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen 

INTRODUCTION 

          Good morning. I am heartened to learn that we have many caregivers amongst us. I would like to honour all the caregivers who are with us today. Your personal commitment and sacrifice for your loved one is indeed an inspiration to all of us.

2        Today, 1 in 7 Singaporeans are aged 65 or older. This number will become 1 in 4 in 2030.The overall need for caregiving will thus increase in tandem with Singapore’s rapidly ageing population. Caregivers have to understand the needs of their care recipients, including their illnesses, so as to be able to render the best possible care.  For example, when caring for a person with mental health conditions, the caregiver plays a key role in the early detection of relapse. The caregiver also has to learn to cope with the person’s challenging behaviours. Caregiving is never an easy task because on top of caring for their loved ones, caregivers also have to juggle with the demands of everyday life, sometimes at the expense of their career, and even their personal lives. Many may experience stress and burnout along the way, which take a toll on their own health and well-being. 

CONTINUING GOVERNMENT SUPPORT

3        To provide stronger support to caregivers, the government will continue to do its part to enhance existing schemes and introduce new programmes. First, we are enhancing capacity and care services to support caregivers. For the elderly, we are on target to grow the number of home- and day-care places from 7,500 and 4,000 places today, to 10,000 and 6,200 places respectively by 2020. We will be increasing the number of dementia day care services by three-fold to 3,000 places by 2020. We are also increasing the number of allied health-led Community Intervention Teams (COMIT) which provide support to persons with mental health conditions and their caregivers from 14 to 18 teams by 2021. Furthermore, IMH is strengthening its post discharge support so that more patients can transit smoothly home after they are discharged. IMH expects to be able to support an additional 3,000 patients over the next five years, on top of the current 8,000 patients who require more intensive case management after discharge. 

4        Second, we will periodically review our schemes to ensure affordability. The Caregiver Training Grant provides $200 for caregivers to attend training courses each year to better equip them with the necessary skills and know-how in caring for their loved ones, including those with mental health conditions. For families who require additional help, the Foreign Domestic Worker Grant provides $120 each month to families who employ foreign domestic help to care for seniors at home and persons with moderate disabilities. Eligible families with frail seniors, young children or persons with disabilities can also enjoy a reduced Foreign Domestic Worker Concessionary Levy of $60 per month. Government subsidies are available to eligible patients receiving inpatient and outpatient mental health treatments and consultations at public healthcare institutions. For Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS) cardholders, subsidies are provided for outpatient consultations at CHAS GPs.   Medishield Life covers inpatient treatment of psychiatric conditions and patients can use their medisave to pay for the balance of the fees after government subsidies and Medishield Life.  Medisave can also be used for outpatient treatment of bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, depression and anxiety, under the Chronic Disease Management Programme (CDMP).

5        Third, we are increasing the accessibility of our respite care programmes. There are currently nine eldercare centres across Singapore where caregivers can place their loved ones to be cared for, for a few hours on the weekends. Those who need a longer respite of a few days to a month can also participate in the Nursing Home Respite Care Programme, which is now offered by more than 40 nursing homes since its launch in 2013. Caregivers of seniors with dementia can also tap on the Eldersit programme where seniors with dementia are engaged in cognitive-stimulating activities to give caregivers a break.  As at end 2016, we have over 170 eldersitters across four partner organisations[1], and they have reached out to over 800 clients.

6        Even as we ramp up the provision of care services and programmes, we need to ensure that they remain easy to navigate and are accessible. We are thus constantly improving accessibility through having more touch points. For example, the Singapore Silver Line, a one-stop call centre was launched in 2014 to help seniors and their caregivers navigate care services and schemes in the community. For those who prefer a more personal touch, they can also visit the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC)’s AICareLinks (pronounced “I Care Links”) resource centres located at its Maxwell Road office and at six hospitals, including this hospital. 

GALVANISING COMMUNITY RESOURCES      

7        We hope that establishing more community-based services such as COMIT and mental health teams at polyclinics, will facilitate greater access to care and acceptance of treatment which will  help to lower the stigma of mental illness. To encourage help seeking and reduce stigma, healthcare and community partners also organise annual events, campaigns and forums to raise awareness and educate the public on mental health conditions. For example, the National Council of Social Services (NCSS) will embark on a multi-year public education campaign that aims to promote an inclusive society for persons with mental health conditions. The Institute of Mental Health (IMH) also organised a walk down Orchard Road last year on World Mental Health Day with the theme “Walk with Me, Stamp Out Stigma”. We will continue such efforts every year to build a more inclusive society.

8        The government recognises that we cannot do this alone. We need to work with the community and society at large to build ecosystems of care around our caregivers and their loved ones. For instance, we have launched the Dementia Friendly Communities (DFC) where residents, businesses and other community partners are trained to identify and assist seniors with dementia. Through these, we hope that more Singaporeans can help to look out for seniors with dementia, and their caregivers can have greater peace of mind knowing that the community at large will also support their loved ones.

9        There have also been ground-up initiatives to support seniors with dementia and their caregivers to continue living well in the community. Examples of such programmes include Family of Wisdom by Alzheimer’s Disease Association, which provides an avenue for caregivers and persons with dementia to participate in activities together and provide mutual support. The Mindful Caregiver by Brahm Centre reaches out to caregivers through Mindfulness programmes to improve psychological and physical wellbeing. We hope to see more of such ground-up community initiatives, to complement the government’s efforts in improving support for caregivers. 

CONCLUSION

10       In conclusion, I would like to thank Caregivers Alliance for its years of commitment in supporting the caregivers of persons with mental health conditions. Collectively, we can do more to empower caregivers by building on programmes and social support, and creating a caring and inclusive society that embraces persons with mental health conditions.

11       Although caregiving involves making personal sacrifices, it is also a rewarding experience. On this note, on behalf of the care recipients and the community, I want to thank all the caregivers present today for your time and effort that you have devoted in providing selfless care to your loved ones.

12       Thank you and I wish you a successful Caregivers Conference.

 

 

 

[1] Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA), Thye Hua Kwan Moral Charities (THK), NTUC Health, and St. Luke’s Eldercare (SLEC).

 

 

 

 

 

 

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