Speech by Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong at the Credit Suisse Philanthropists Forum 2017 on Healthcare Giving in Asia, Thursday, 16 November 2017, 9 am

Vice Chairman Asia Pacific, Credit Suisse, Mr Lito Camacho 

Head of Private Banking Asia Pacific and Chief Executive Officer, Southeast Asia and Frontier Markets, Credit Suisse, Mr Francesco de Ferrari 

Chairman, SymAsia Foundation and Ambassador-at-Large, Professor Tommy Koh 

Distinguished Guests, 

Ladies and Gentlemen,  

1    Good morning, and to our overseas guests, a very warm welcome to Singapore. I would first like to commend Credit Suisse for its important work in supporting philanthropic giving in the Asia Pacific region. It is indeed very heartening to see so many of you gathered here this morning to talk about philanthropy in health and eldercare, which is an area of growing need and concern.

Role of Philanthropy in Healthcare

2    Philanthropy has contributed much to improving the health outcomes and well-being of communities all around Asia. In Singapore, during the last 50 years of development, philanthropy often played the role in filling critical gaps to meet the health needs of Singaporeans, even as the government developed the public healthcare system. From as early as the 19th century, Chinese philanthropists and clan associations set up hospitals and medical institutions, to look after the poor and needy in their community. These included the Thong Chai Medical Institution, Kwong Wai Shiu Free Hospital and the Chinese Pauper Hospital (now known as Tan Tock Seng Hospital). Our first volunteer community hospital also had its beginnings as the St Andrew’s Medical Mission in 1913 as a dispensary for women and children.

3    Philanthropists also contributed to the development of medical education in Singapore. Our first medical school was established in 1905 with the contributions of philanthropists such as Tan Jiak Kim, local merchants and funds raised by the local community.

4    Many charity organisations evolved in the years following independence to help the government meet specific health needs. Today, even as health standards have improved, philanthropy continues to play a valuable role in supporting the government’s efforts in improving the affordability, accessibility and quality of healthcare. For example, the not-for-profit Mount Alvernia Hospital, has been a key private partner for us. Since its founding in 1961, the hospital continues to fundraise and channel its donations into upgrading its hospital to provide better quality care for Singaporeans.

5    The spirit of philanthropy in Singapore’s healthcare is perhaps most evident in our intermediate and long term care sector which is largely run by Voluntary Welfare Organisations (VWOs). Driven by passion and the desire to do good, VWOs in the sector have played a critical role in rehabilitating patients after discharge from the hospital, caring for frail seniors in the community, championing the needs of those with specific medical conditions and providing complementary medical treatments such as Traditional Chinese Medicine. Additionally, many volunteers also contribute their time, professional expertise, networks and other resources to enhance the quality and affordability of healthcare. 

6    To encourage greater charitable giving in healthcare, especially in the intermediate and long-term care sector, the Ministry of Health introduced the Community Silver Trust Fund in 2011, to provide dollar-for-dollar matching grants for funds raised by VWOs in the sector. Apart from matching donations, the government also provides tax deductions for donations to Institutions of a Public Character (IPCs). We also partnered Tote Board in setting up the Tote Board Community Healthcare Fund to support ground-up community initiatives in preventive health and intermediate and long-term care.

7    I am heartened to see a healthy level of philanthropy in the healthcare sector today. According to the Commissioner of Charities 2016 Annual Report, we have about 138 charities and 83 IPCs registered under the health sector.  In 2015, donations amounted to about $334 million. However, partnership with the community, including philanthropists like many of you, can be further strengthened as we ramp up efforts to better serve our seniors.

Redefining Ageing in Singapore

8    Singapore’s population is ageing like many developed countries, but at a faster pace. By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years and above, about double that of today. But, instead of worrying about ageing, if we can achieve longer healthy and productive life years in tandem with the expansion in our total life years, we can collectively turn a potential silver tsunami into productive longevity.

9    It is with this intent that the Ministerial Committee on Ageing launched a $3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing in 2015. The Action Plan covers more than 70 initiatives across 12 different sectors, and is a blueprint for a whole of nation effort to help Singaporeans age gracefully and confidently. With initiatives at the individual, community and city levels, the Action Plan has many targeted programmes to enable seniors to lead healthy and active lives. For example, we are partnering employers and community-based organisations to bring health education and preventive health services to seniors at workplaces and communities. We have also set up the National Silver Academy last year to enable seniors to continue learning.

10    At the community level, we are systematically promoting community-based befriending and building “dementia friendly communities” so citizens, businesses and the larger community can be trained to look out for seniors with dementia. We currently have over 700 senior befrienders serving more than 2,000 seniors in 40 constituencies.

11    At the city level, we are implementing a suite of initiatives to refresh our homes, our towns, transport system and parks to make our city more senior friendly. For example, we are creating safer traffic junctions through Silver Zones and rolling out wheelchair-friendly areas and buses. We are also building therapeutic gardens in our parks to support the care of seniors with dementia and post-stroke. 

Transforming Care for an Ageing Population

12    We also need to transform how we organise and deliver care to prepare our healthcare system for our rapidly ageing population in a sustainable way. We have started to make three key shifts in this regard, that is, beyond healthcare to health, beyond hospitals to the community and beyond quality to value. In the context of caring for seniors, this means investing more in three areas – first, in health promotion and active ageing to help seniors live well for longer; second, in building up a good system of home and community-based care that can support our seniors to age in place; and third, in developing a holistic support system that can integrate and deliver person-centric care for our seniors.

13    We have been working closely with our VWO partners in delivering services to our seniors. For example, Tsao Foundation launched their new Community for Successful Ageing (ComSA) Centre at the Whampoa Community Club in partnership with the National Healthcare Group earlier this year. Building upon Tsao’s efforts in nurturing a strong community of support for the seniors there, the centre aims to pilot a new model of community care that provides holistic support for seniors.

14    The centre’s Learning Room empowers seniors to lead healthier lives by teaching them how to manage chronic conditions and build mental resilience among our seniors. In addition to providing the Integrated Home and Day Care packages that allows seniors to benefit from a flexible mix of home and day care services customised to their needs, the centre also offers primary care, geriatric services and case management to help seniors manage their care and receive timely interventions. The ComSA centre also helps to link up with other community partners such as the neighbourhood GPs to build up a strong network of complementary health and social services to support the needs of the seniors. I encourage you to ask Dr Mary Ann Tsao, who was closely involved in this project, for details about this project during her session later on. 

Where can Philanthropy Help?

15    We continue to welcome partnerships that can help to supplement and complement the government’s efforts in shaping the future of ageing in Singapore. Transforming Singapore into a Nation for All Ages would only be possible through a “many hands and many hearts” approach involving not just the government, but VWOs, academia, businesses and community and grassroots leaders. There is a lot of potential for philanthropy to play an even greater role in the ageing and eldercare sector. Let me highlight three areas.

16    First is in continuing the good work in the intermediate and long-term care sector. The government is doing more to support the expansion and development of aged care services to meet the needs of our elderly. 

17    We will still need the passion of our VWOs in delivering the care services to our seniors with a heart, and providing them with the emotional support that they will need to age in place. This is something that the VWOs do better than the government and is also part of our strategy to nurture an inclusive and caring community.

18    The second area is in innovating new models of aged and community care. The government has set aside up to $200 million in research funds under the National Innovation Challenge on Active and Confident Ageing to catalyse research related to ageing. This is aimed at encouraging the research community to innovate to transform the experience of ageing. One of the projects supported was by TOUCH Community Services, in partnership with Pulsesync, to develop a mobile solution that could automate the matching of volunteers with frail seniors in need based on their interests, competencies and availabilities, as well as facilitate arrangements for meals delivery and transport escort services. We have launched five other grant calls to-date, and look forward to innovations that can make a difference to our future care landscape.

19    We are also working with VWO partners like Ren Ci Hospital to evolve new models of care in our nursing homes. They have piloted a new programme to enable seniors to recuperate and eventually return home by providing psycho-social and rehabilitative services and working with social agencies and community organisations to put in place a network of care including befriending and home care services. Their new nursing home in Ang Mo Kio has also been designed with a cluster concept, where each cluster will comprise a few beds sharing a common dining and activity area, to provide a more home-like environment, promote social interaction and encourage residents to live independently like in their own homes.

20    But there is a lot more that can be done in other areas of ageing and aged care. Philanthropists can support the development and application of innovative products and services that could enhance the ageing experience and improve quality and productivity of our aged care. Innovative products could include things like assistive devices for autonomous living, particularly for persons with dementia, as well as technological solutions that could act as workforce enablers or replacements of labour, such as patient transfer aids and automated bathing equipment. In terms of services, these could include innovative ways to better support caregivers and care services, including assisted living services.

21    The third area is in facilitating the provision of “last mile” delivery of care to seniors on the ground. Our experience in caring for seniors thus far has taught us that the “last mile” delivery of care is very critical. Hence, we are also working hard with our community partners to build communities of care. Last year, we started the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS), which aims to develop a strong system of community based support to complement family support, to help keep seniors well and help them to age well in place.  Under this initiative, we are bringing preventive health and befriending programmes to seniors who are in need, regardless of their income. The CNS was first piloted in three constituencies and we are planning to expand CNS to many more communities next year.

22    Philanthropy and volunteerism can play a key role in mobilising resources within the communities, for example, by plugging gaps in the delivery and coordination of care on the ground, extending the reach of wellness and preventive health activities, leveraging on technology such as home monitoring systems to care for seniors living alone, and training befrienders and the community-at-large to identify seniors in distress or those with mental health needs. These efforts would be particularly helpful and would go a long way in making every community a place where our seniors can be cared for and supported to age well in place.

Conclusion

23    The government will do more in the ageing and eldercare space but we will continue to need the support and partnership of the philanthropic sector to meet the needs and aspirations of our seniors. I am confident that, with your support, we can achieve our vision of developing Singapore into a great place for successful ageing in Asia.

24    I wish you all a fruitful forum, thank you.

 

 

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