Opening Speech by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Lawrence Wong at the Official Opening Ceremony of the New National Cancer Centre Singapore on 18 May 2023.
Chairman and Group CEO of SingHealth, Mr Cheng Wai Keung and Prof Ivy Ng
CEO of National Cancer Centre Singapore, Prof William Hwang
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Good morning and I am very happy to join you this morning for the official opening of the new National Cancer Centre Singapore (or NCCS) building.
I am especially heartened to see many representatives from our medical fraternity, donors and partners all gathered here to celebrate the opening of this new centre. Your presence reflects our collective commitment to confront this difficult disease. It is a disease that knows no boundaries. It affects Singaporeans young and old. And all of us would have family members, friends or loved ones afflicted with cancer and we know how devastating it can be when someone receives the news for the first time. For those who have been personally impacted by cancer, fighting the disease is often a life-altering experience.
So we must continue to work together to deal with cancer as effectively as possible. None of us want to contract cancer. But the sobering fact is that one in four Singaporeans are likely to develop some form of cancer over their lifetimes, at least based on the statistics today and many will do so in their senior years. Close to 40% of those diagnosed with cancer currently are aged 70 or above. So as our population continues to age, we can unfortunately expect more people to be diagnosed with cancer.
That is why it is timely we are opening this new, expanded and purpose-built NCCS building today.
This state-of-the-art facility will provide more comprehensive and holistic care for our cancer patients, housing clinical services, research, education, and more, all under one roof.
Beyond cancer care, the new building will also bring the SGH Campus one step closer to its Masterplan’s vision of being a world-class medical campus and academic research centre.
So let me congratulate everyone in NCCS and SGH on this major milestone, it is truly something that all of you can be very proud of.
Evolution of Cancer Care in Singapore
In fact, we are only at the beginning, there are many more developments to come and I am sure there will be many more milestones to achieve as well. This new building builds on the original vision for NCCS. It may be hard to imagine it today, but before NCCS was first established in 1999, cancer care was rather fragmented. Patients had to go to different hospitals and clinics across the country to get the care they needed. It was neither easy nor convenient. And so, our goal with NCCS was to centralise expertise and treatments all in one location.
We brought different experts and specialists together to provide the best care for patients.
And we took the opportunity to deepen our research capabilities, with a focus on developing new treatments for cancers that are common to our population.
I am glad that more than 20 years later, NCCS has made considerable progress.
Today, NCCS is a leading cancer centre in Southeast Asia. Its research expertise in Asian cancers has been recognised in many awards, including the prestigious American Association for Cancer Research Team Science Award.
NCCS is also a leader in clinical trials for new cancer therapeutics.
And NCCS has collaborated with other hospitals and partners in Singapore, including the National University Cancer Institute, to deepen and share its expertise.
Because of all of these efforts, cancer care across our entire healthcare system has improved significantly. Since the early 1990s, cancer survival rates, measured 5 years after the first diagnosis, has increased by close to 75%. So getting cancer today is no longer the death sentence that it once was, especially if the cancer is detected early. And with more medical advances, I have no doubt things will improve further.
All the efforts and achievements we have made all these years is really the result of the dedication and hard work of everyone involved in cancer care in Singapore, both past and present. So I’d like to thank all of you for your many contributions to cancer care in Singapore!
The New NCCS
The new NCCS building will build on our successes and take cancer care in Singapore to greater heights as Professor William shared just now.
First, to cater for the expected increase in cancer cases in the coming years, it has expanded capacity for chemotherapy treatment and outpatient services by more than two thirds.
Second, it will also undertake more advanced cancer treatments and research. For example, it will house our new national cell therapy centre, the Advanced Cell Therapy Research Institute, Singapore (ACTRIS) because Cell Therapy is a highly promising and advanced field in cancer treatment which uses a patient’s own immune cells to fight cancers that are resistant to chemotherapy. ACTRIS will pool together our expertise in this area and push the boundaries of research, hopefully for better outcomes for our people.
Even as we work to expand treatment options in Singapore, we must also ensure these options remain affordable for Singaporeans. This means working with doctors and health insurers to promote clinically proven and cost-effective treatments within our system, and importantly, engaging drug companies to lower their prices. MOH made a major move last year by introducing the cancer drug list. This has allowed us to negotiate an average price reduction of 30% for cancer drugs in Singapore. We will continue to monitor the situation closely and consider how best to ensure affordable and cost-effective treatments for all Singaporeans.
Importance of Cancer Prevention and Early Detection
To truly improve cancer care in Singapore, we need a holistic approach. In particular, we must do more upstream through better prevention and early detection. There are in fact many ways we can all reduce our own risk of cancer, such as by exercising regularly, or avoiding smoking and excessive drinking. Through Healthier SG, we will work closely with our family doctors to build long term relationships with every Singaporean, so to better advise them how to take care of their own health. These seemingly easy preventive steps are actually not so easy. They take discipline, they take continued engagement by family physicians and through Healthier SG, we hope we can make some breakthroughs.
We will also do more to encourage Singaporeans to go for regular screenings. In the case of cancer, early detection can make a huge difference – it can reduce the need for complex and expensive treatments, and greatly improve chances of a complete recovery. To help encourage this, we will provide fully subsidised screenings for the most common cancers, such as breast, cervical and colorectal cancer. I am glad that NCCS will be doing its part in this important effort by conducting research to help us better identify people who are at risk of developing different cancers. Basically, even as we expand the new NCCS with more capacity to treat people with cancer, our real goal is to reduce the incidents of cancer to begin with. In fact, we are allocating a lot more resources, not just to treat people who are sick but to prevent sickness to begin with. That is why the Healthier SG effort is so important.
Important Role of the Community
Of course, Government and medical institutions like NCCS can only do so much. To deal with cancer in our society, our community partners have a key role to play too. This is why, NCCS works with community partners to raise awareness of cancer prevention and encourage healthy lifestyles. Apart from public education, many community partners also support the physical, social and financial needs of cancer patients. One example is the Singapore Cancer Society, which provides a wide range of support including financial aid, welfare, rehabilitation and hospice services. All this enables patients to lead normal lives in the community even as they undergo treatment.
I’m very glad the new NCCS building will now house the Singapore Cancer Society. Previously, the society’s various services were scattered across Singapore. But in the new NCCS building, they will all be brought together under one roof, making it more accessible and convenient for patients. I am sure everyone in the Singapore Cancer Society is happy with this new integrated development.
Of course, I should also mention the important role of our donors and philanthropists. Over the years, philanthropy has helped fund many novel research programmes and treatment initiatives in Singapore. So, as Professor William did just now, let me acknowledge the generous donations which have made various treatments and programmes at NCCS possible.
The Goh Cheng Liang Foundation gifted a generous $50 million that was instrumental in making Proton Beam Therapy, a new radiotherapy treatment, available at NCCS.
Mrs Margaret Lien pledged $20 million to establish the Lien Ying Chow Endowment Fund, which will provide financial and social support to cancer patients and their families.
Of course there are many more donors who have contributed to various projects, scholarships, fellowships and patient care initiatives.
To all of you, let me say a big thank you. Your donations have made a positive impact on the lives of many cancer patients and their families and this truly reflects the Singapore approach too, it is not just the government doing more but the community, the individuals, all of us doing our part to support those in need.
To conclude, the new NCCS building represents a new chapter in our fight against cancer in Singapore. With its advanced treatments, expanded capacity, innovative research centres and community care facilities, it will help us take cancer care in Singapore to the next level.
I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who has played a part in making the new NCCS building a reality – clinicians, researchers, community partners, donors and staff at NCCS. Let us continue to work together to deliver accessible, affordable, and quality cancer care for all Singaporeans.
Congratulations once again and thank you very much.
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