Speech by Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health, on SG Cares, 7 March 2018

1.         Mr Chairman, Minister Desmond Lee has mentioned the SG Cares movement, and how it will galvanise whole of  nation to care for fellow Singaporeans, especially the more vulnerable, including our seniors. Let me elaborate on our efforts in supporting seniors, our initiatives to build Communities of Care, and how we can each play our part to nurture a caring society.

(A) INVESTING IN AGED CARE CAPACITY, QUALITY & AFFORDABILITY 

2.         We will continue to plan ahead for seniors.  Since 2011, we have expanded our healthcare capacity to help seniors age in place. We are continuing to develop new models of care, and improve the affordability of eldercare services. In 2012, intermediate and long-term care (ILTC) subsidies were enhanced to cover up to two-thirds of Singaporean households. As many of you know, we are reviewing ElderShield to provide stronger support for disability in old age, and recommendations of the review committee will be released by mid-year. This year’s Budget has put aside $2 billion for ElderShield subsidies to ensure premiums will be affordable. We are also enhancing our Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund (SMF), and expanding the Community Silver Trust (CST) fund to cover active ageing initiatives. 

3.         Preparing for our ageing population, is a Whole-of-Government endeavour, which is why we launched the Action Plan for Successful Ageing in 2015, to drive collective action in areas such as employability, senior volunteerism, health and wellness, housing, and transport. SMS Khor gave an update of the action plan in Parliament last month.         

(B) BUILDING COMMUNITIES OF CARE

4.         I agree with Dr Tan Wu Meng that we must address the needs of seniors holistically. Seniors often have multiple needs, and we can better coordinate services among partners and stakeholders. This is why we piloted the Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) in 2016 to mobilise and coordinate efforts of community volunteers, service providers and other stakeholders in each community to care for seniors.

5.    In Tampines for example, the Evergreen Senior Activity Centre (SAC) and the RCs work together to organise regular active ageing activities to keep seniors well and active. We recently started a Community Nurse Post at Evergreen SAC, where a nurse from Changi General Hospital is available once a week to help conduct health checks and follow ups for seniors. For lonely seniors, volunteers and block representatives visit and befriend them. Care Line, a 24/7 tele-care and befriending service, is also available. Should seniors require a home visit to check in on them, the Singapore Red Cross volunteers can be activated. 

6.         Our vision is to build more of such “communities of care” throughout Singapore. We are making two structural moves to achieve this.  First, the repositioning of PGO as the Silver Generation Office, housed within the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), will help extend our outreach efforts to seniors beyond the Pioneers and tap on the services of AIC. Some 3,000 volunteers have been trained as PG Ambassadors since 2014. They have done good work and many of them have established personal relationships with the seniors they care for. In fact, 1 in 4 PG Ambassadors are themselves seniors aged 60 and above. Our PG Ambassadors remain the cornerstone of our efforts to create local communities of care. They have connected with more than 400,000 seniors in some 800,000 engagements since 2014.

7.         The conversion of PGO to SGO reflects the Government’s commitment to proactively reach out to our seniors, to engage them, understand their needs, and care for them. I agree with Dr Lily Neo, who suggested that the new SGO act as a liaison agency for seniors, to proactively connect them to services in the community. As mentioned earlier by Minister Desmond Lee, my Ministry will also be working with the Social Service Offices (SSO) to do this. Moving forward, SGO will do more targeted outreach to bring preventive health and wellness programmes to seniors. For those with multiple needs, they can be quickly connected with relevant health and social support services under AIC. 

8.         One example of a senior who has benefitted from Community Networks for Seniors (CNS) is Madam Lim.  She is now in her 70s and used to be a lively Chinese opera singer, but spent more time alone at home after retirement. Thanks to a PG Ambassador, Madam Lim was connected to TOUCH Community Services, which subsequently helped her install grab bars in her home, arranged for medical escort and transport services for her medical appointments, and also linked her up with Meals on Wheels. Today she attends NTUC’s SilverACE Senior Activity Centre at Taman Jurong regularly, and even takes up Taichi at the nearby Community Centre. Madam Lim also spends time with a befriender every week. I am cheered to know many helping hands are working together to care for her, through the CNS.   

9.          Our second shift is to consolidate all health and social aged services under MOH to better support seniors to age well within the community. The transfer of MSF’s social care functions to MOH allows us to deliver support to seniors more seamlessly, with AIC as our central implementation agency to co-ordinate all social and health related services for seniors and their caregivers. This move also allows us to plan ahead for eldercare services at the national level and in a more integrated way.     

10.       As Dr Lily Neo suggested, the transfer of services under the Senior Cluster Network (SCN) from MSF will enable MOH to better integrate SCN services into the wider Community Networks for Seniors (CNS).  For example, MOH can now engage service providers to discuss new opportunities for Senior Activity Centres to help seniors age in place, such as through active ageing programmes.

(C) CARE AND SUPPORT FROM INDIVIDUALS   

11.       Ultimately however, what defines us as a nation is how well we, as a society, collectively show respect, care and concern for our seniors. The progress we make in strengthening inter-generational bonds, will shape our social fabric in the future. 

12.       We see this happening in many purposeful ways.  For example, St Joseph’s Home has a childcare centre and inter-generational playground co-located with its nursing home, creating many opportunities for shared experiences like meals and activities. At Bedok Orchid RC, students from Temasek Junior College read newspapers and share current affairs with seniors every week. Not only do both parties gain new insights, they also form new friendships.

13.       Volunteerism is another way through which we unlock our community resources. The 15,000 volunteer Health Ambassadors and Health Advocates from our Health Promotion Board come from all walks of life, and play an important role in health promotion and raising public awareness. 

14.      We can also harness the immense wealth of knowledge and experience of older volunteers who continue to contribute to society, as Dr Tan Wu Meng and Dr Lily Neo suggested.  A good example is Mr Eric Teo, whom I met last month. Eric is 78 years old and has been volunteering actively at Siglap for the past five years. In particular, he helps out with the Health Peers Programme run by Changi General Hospital (CGH) and the South East Community Development Council (SECDC). Eric keeps busy today by encouraging fellow seniors in Siglap to go for health screenings, and he visits residents to raise awareness of diabetes prevention and management. In the process, his volunteer work helps to keep him fit!

15.       Mr Teo exemplifies the spirit of SG Cares, and shows us how seniors too can care for fellow seniors. I hope his experience inspires more Singaporeans, regardless of age, to come forward to volunteer in the community, so that we can make SG Cares an enduring movement. Minister Grace Fu will speak more on volunteerism in her speech.

(D) SUPPORT FOR CAREGIVERS 

16.     Last but not least, several members touched on the role of caregivers in the Budget Debate. We recognise the dedication of caregivers and the important role they play in caring for our seniors. My Ministry will provide greater support for caregivers. Providing respite options will give relief to caregivers who need help for a few hours over the weekend. They can leave their loved ones at one of ten senior care centres across Singapore, where they will be looked after. For those who need a longer respite, they can have their elderly cared for at one of over 40 nursing homes for several days, up to a month. In addition, our Eldersit programme provides an eldersitter to look after seniors with dementia at their homes. We have also rolled out financial schemes to help defray the costs of care and caregiver training. 

17.     Going forward, there is room for us to do more.  Emotional and timely support is important for caregivers. We are working on new approaches, to embed dedicated support for caregivers within eldercare centres.  For example, support could take the form of phone conversations with caregivers, face-to-face meetings or even home visits.  We have a national toll-free hotline for seniors and their caregivers, the Singapore Silver Line (1800-650-6060), for assistance regarding our community care services and schemes. MOH and AIC will continue to take on board feedback from caregivers and work closely with our partners to support them.

(E) CONCLUSION 

18.       Mr Chairman, let me say a few words in Mandarin. 

19.       孟子说:老吾老以及人之老。年长者是我们社会重要的一份子,他们付出许多的牺牲,也作出极大的贡献。政府会尽我们的能力继续协助年长者安享晚年。不过,单靠政府的努力是不够的。关键的是我们家庭的支助,以及广大社会的关怀。 

20.       我们社会全体上下必须携手为我们的年长者打造一个充满爱心、充满温馨的家园。这样一来,我们的年长者才能在家人、朋友与社区的怀抱中,优雅和自信地度过一个精彩的晚年。 

(In English) 

19.     We must respect and care for our seniors who are an integral part of our society. Government will do our best to help our seniors in their golden years. However, this cannot be done without the help of families and the community at large. 

20.     We must work together to build a caring society for all ages. This way, seniors can age gracefully and confidently, among their family, friends and community. 

21.     Thank you.

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