Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Heng Swee Keat at the Singapore Health Quality Service Awards 2020 on 14 January 2020.
Professor Ivy Ng,
Group CEO of SingHealth,
CEOs and Healthcare Leaders,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is my pleasure to be here at the Singapore Health Quality Service Awards 2020.
This year marks the tenth anniversary of this award, which recognises the efforts and dedication of healthcare professionals across different care sectors.
Today, we have a record number of award recipients, 4,295 to be precise, from 43 public and private healthcare institutions.
My heartiest congratulations to all award recipients!
Important role of healthcare professionals
These awards are significant because they recognise the men and women that make our healthcare system work.
Singapore’s healthcare system is regarded by many as one of the best in the world.
Singapore has one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world; and our life expectancy at birth is almost 85 years, the highest in the world.
So far, we have achieved these good outcomes, at relatively lower national spending compared to other systems.
Maintaining an efficient, financially sustainable healthcare system will be critical in the coming decades, with clinical care becoming more complex and chronic diseases becoming more prevalent, teamwork and collaboration among healthcare professionals, across various disciplines and care settings, will be essential in delivering better quality and efficient care.
I am glad that a number of outstanding teams will be receiving Best Team awards, in recognition of their collaborative efforts to improve clinical practice and patient experience.
Beyond complexity, demand for healthcare will also continue to grow as our population ages.
But we will not be able to grow the pool of our healthcare professionals indefinitely, and I know all of you are already working very hard!
Therefore, we must continue to innovate, and find ways to keep our healthcare system efficient and sustainable.
Empowering people to stay healthy
At the national level, the single most important thing we must do is to empower our people to stay healthy.
As importantly, for everyone, no matter how excellent our healthcare system, I am sure that all of us would rather stay healthy than fall sick!
Our healthcare institutions have embarked on efforts to promote preventive care.
For example, our three integrated healthcare clusters – the National University Health System, National Healthcare Group and SingHealth – have been conducting health promotion roadshows in our heartlands.
At these roadshows, people can get basic health screenings, and learn specific changes they can make to be improve their health.
Thank you to all those involved, for sacrificing your nights and weekends to run these roadshows. You are making a difference!
Nonetheless, even with our best efforts, people will still fall sick.
For these patients, we should educate them on how to manage their chronic conditions, and guide them to make lifestyle changes to reduce their risk of health complications.
In doing so, it is important to use clear, easy-to-understand language, rather than medical jargon, so that patients and their loved ones can understand their conditions and treatment options.
To this end, the “Plain English Glossary”, developed by the SingHealth Patient Advocacy Network (SPAN), is a very useful resource.
The Glossary includes simple, layman explanations for medical terms that healthcare professionals can use when speaking to patients.
For instance, the Glossary suggests using the term “heart attack”, instead of “cardiac arrest”.
To ensure that the terms were accurate, the SPAN team also reviewed the Glossary with a team of nurses and allied healthcare professionals.
Today, many healthcare professionals refer to this glossary when communicating with their patients and caregivers.
Copies of this glossary are also distributed to new nurses and doctors who join the SingHealth team.
Well done to the SPAN team!
Leveraging technology so healthcare professionals can focus on patient care
Another key to keeping our healthcare system sustainable is to leverage technology, to free up time for healthcare professionals to focus on patient care.
Research and development in healthcare is a key priority of our Research, Innovation and Enterprise 2020 plan.
This is also a key focus under the Healthcare Industry Transformation Map, I am glad that many hospitals have started pilot projects to do precisely this.
For instance, at Changi General Hospital, HOSPI the robot helps to deliver items from room to room.
This frees up time for staff to focus on more meaningful aspects of their job, especially interacting with patients.
Indeed, no matter how advanced our medical technology, genuine care for patients will always remain a critical part of our healthcare system.
When I fell ill in 2016, I was reminded that nothing can replace the emotional warmth of concern from a fellow human being.
The encouragement and support from the staff at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and the National Neuroscience Institute was a big factor in my recovery!
There is no substitute for the human touch, and this is probably most starkly felt in caring for the terminally ill.
One of our Superstar award winners today is Anna Lee.
A member of the palliative care team at the St Andrew’s Community Hospital, Anna and her colleagues not only help patients and their families with medical issues, but she and her team also help them deal with the emotional and practical aspects of coming to terms with the end of a patient’s life.
Anna’s team often goes beyond the call of duty to fulfil the patients’ last wishes, or requests from loved ones.
For instance, when a patient’s son wanted to take his father for a ride in his new car, Anna and her team made it happen, even though the patient was very weak and his poor health presented a challenge.
This may be a simple gesture, but I am sure this is a memory that the patient’s son will cherish for the rest of his life.
Thank you Anna and team for going the extra mile! I want to thank all of you, because I’m sure there are many such stories.
Supporting our healthcare professionals
Besides empowering our patients and leveraging technology, an excellent, efficient and sustainable healthcare system must ensure that you, our healthcare professionals, are well-supported in the workplace.
There are many ways to show support and appreciate our healthcare professionals.
But today, I want to focus on two specific areas.
The first is in supporting our healthcare professionals’ emotional and mental health.
Emotional and mental health are important in every line of work, but especially critical in healthcare.
Your jobs are not just physically demanding, but can also be very stressful and emotionally draining.
This is why initiatives, like Ren Ci Hospital’s “Colour Me Happy” project, are so valuable.
This project was started to help nurses identify signs of burnout in themselves and their colleagues.
Using a deck of cards with therapy questions, nurses can talk about negative emotions and the burden of caregiving
This makes it easier for them to ask for help.
This programme has been so successful that Ren Ci Hospital also uses it for their patients’ caregivers too!
I am pleased that the founder of this programme, Ms Bridget Monica Das, Head of the Social Work and Counselling Department at Ren Ci Hospital, is one of the award recipients today.
The second area I want to touch on is encouraging patients and their families to express appreciation for our healthcare workers.
Just as nothing can replace the warmth of human care from our healthcare professionals to our patients, there is also no substitute for a kind word from our patients to encourage our dedicated healthcare professionals.
I hope more of us will step forward to show our appreciation for our healthcare workers, and give them the extra boost that they need to continue with their good work.
All of us have a part to play in building a healthy society.
The strong partnerships between healthcare workers, patients and their caregivers is vital part of achieving this.
In many instances, you also work closely with community groups and volunteers to deliver services and care to those in need.
This is really the ethos of the SG Together movement: Working together, to improve the lives of those around us, because each of us can make a difference. And together, we can build a better Singapore.
Once again, my heartiest congratulations to all award recipients!
You are the heart and soul of our healthcare system.
Please keep up the excellent work, and continue to help all Singaporeans lead happier, healthier lives.
Thank you very much.
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