Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, at the Nurses' Merit Award Ceremony 2017, 7 July 2017

Nurses,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,

1.           It is my pleasure to join you here today to honour, recognise and celebrate the achievements of the recipients of this year’s Nurses’ Merit Award. My warmest congratulations to the 100 award recipients and their loved ones, as well as colleagues who have been supportive of them during their journey.

2.           The Nurses’ Merit Award is given out every year to nurses with outstanding performance and contributions to the profession and patient care. It is also gratifying to see great diversity among the award recipients this year, reflecting the diversity in the nursing profession itself. Regardless of whether you joined nursing as fresh graduates or as mid-career nurses, whether you work in the acute hospitals or in the nursing homes, I would like to thank all of you for your commitment, dedication, and passion in caring for your patients and their loved ones when they most need it.

Developing the nursing profession

3.           Over the years, we have invested in the development of the nursing profession and seen the growth of the profession from strength to strength. Since 2014, we have implemented a suite of enhancements recommended by the National Nursing Taskforce.  

4.           Beyond two rounds of increases and adjustments to nursing salaries in 2014 and 2015 respectively, we have also enhanced career opportunities for nurses. Enrolled Nurses now have more upgrading opportunities to become Registered Nurses, and experienced Senior Staff Nurses can also progress to become Assistant Nurse Clinicians. MOH has also increased funding support for nurses in the public healthcare institutions to deepen their skills and attain higher qualifications through Advanced Diploma courses, and the Master of Nursing to become Advanced Practice Nurses.

5.           We are pleased to see the increased interest in nursing as a profession. Our intake into local nursing training programmes has increased by 20% between 2014 and 2016. This year’s intake is projected to increase by another 4%.

Building a future-ready nursing workforce

6.           Looking ahead, we need to transform care delivery to meet the needs of a fast ageing population. There are three important shifts we are making. First, to move beyond healthcare to health, by investing in preventive health services, and promoting healthy lifestyles. Second, to go beyond hospital to home, by strengthening community-based care to enable seniors to age well in place. Third, to go beyond quality to focus on providing value care that is appropriate to patients.

7.           Nurses play a key role in this transformation journey. Early this year, MOH announced that we will be engaging the nursing profession across various settings, to discuss and implement a suite of new initiatives in three key areas. First, we want to push ahead with job and process redesign, as well as automation and technology adoption, so that we can enable and empower nurses to spend more time on direct patient care. A series of townhall sessions have been conducted in the past few months and we have many good ideas for both the acute and community care sectors.

8.           Second, we want to develop community nursing as a strong career track to underpin our care transformation to bring care beyond hospital to community. Just last week, Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor led a study trip to Hong Kong to learn more about its community nursing system. There, the team saw how community nurses act as a bridge for patient care between acute hospitals and the community. Faced with similar challenges of an ageing population and rising chronic disease burden, nurses were trained to take on more medically complex cases outside of the hospital, enabling patients to be cared at home and in the community and reducing the demand for hospital care. Their experience has affirmed the direction that we have taken for nursing in Singapore. We will grow nursing in the community care sector beyond acute care, and our Regional Health Systems will take on a leadership role in driving the development of nursing services in the community.

9.           As key members of the healthcare team, nurses can take on an expanded role to manage population health. For those in the community who are generally well, or at the early onset of chronic diseases, nurses can educate and empower patients and families to own and manage their health. For those who are frail or at end of life, nurses can provide and coordinate care and help them stay in the community with their loved ones for as long as possible.

10.       To build a strong pipeline of community nurse leaders, I am pleased to announce that MOH will launch a new Community Nursing Scholarship this month. The scholarship aims to attract school-leavers, as well as in-service nurses, with leadership potential to undergo the relevant nursing diploma and degree courses, and develop a career in community nursing.

11.       Recipients of the Community Nursing Scholarship will receive full sponsorship for their studies. A unique feature of this scholarship is the developmental pathway – all recipients will undergo a one-year development programme after graduation from their nursing studies. They will be posted to an acute hospital for six months to hone their clinical skills, followed by another six-month posting in the community where they will be exposed to nursing practice outside the hospital setting, to prepare them for their work in community nursing. This will equip them with the strong clinical grounding needed to practise in the community. Beyond this, nurses can look forward to opportunities to continue to deepen their knowledge and skills, such as through the Advanced Diploma in Nursing (Community Health) course.

12.       We hope to offer up to 20 scholarships to outstanding students and nurses each year. Applications for the scholarship are open. If you are passionate about community nursing, and believe that you can play a part in transforming healthcare, I strongly encourage you to apply for this scholarship.

13.       Finally, with the new roles that nurses will play in our healthcare, we need to refresh our nursing education system to develop future skills. A National Education Executive Committee has been set up to drive new initiatives to strengthen nursing education, such as re-structuring the nursing training system to provide multiple pathways to deepen nursing competencies, with a stronger emphasis on modularised and applied training. Our Chief Nursing Officer is also driving the establishment of a competency and development system to systematically develop the skills needed for community nursing – across primary care, preventive health and aged care services. With this, nurses will be better able to support care integration, regardless of the setting in which they are practising and the type of care they provide.

Nurses’ Merit Award

14.        I am glad that we already have many dedicated and outstanding nurses serving in the community. One of this year’s award recipients, Ms Mok Foong Yue, is an example of a nurse who is driving the development of the community care sector. After working in the acute sector in neuro-medicine for 16 years, Foong Yue chose to become a home care nurse with Tsao Foundation in 2010 because she wanted to provide direct care to elderly patients in their homes. Seven years on, she is now training the next generation of community nurses through the Advanced Primary Care for Homebound Elders (APACHE) and Certificate in Community Gerontological Nursing programmes, to support community care for elders, including rehabilitation, psycho-social care and eldercare management. Next month, her training portfolio will extend further with the Specialist Diploma in Community Gerontology Nursing. We need more nurses like Foong Yue – those who not only do, but are willing to impart their knowledge to others.

Closing

15.       This is indeed an exciting time for the nursing profession. As we build deeper skills and open up community nursing as an additional pathway, nurses can look forward to a more diverse and exciting career ahead of them.

16.       Once again, my warmest congratulations to all Nurses’ Merit Award recipients this year. I am confident that you will continue to inspire your peers, as well as generations of nurses to come.

17.       I wish all of you a Happy Nurses’ Day! Thank you.

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