PM Lee Hsien Loong at the Official Opening of the National Heart Centre Singapore’s New Building

PM Lee Hsien Loong | 25 September 2014

Opening Address by PM Lee Hsien Loong at official opening of the National Heart Centre Singapore’s new building on 25 September 2014.


Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health

Associate Professor Muhammad Faishal Ibrahim, Parliamentary Secretary, Ministry of Health

Mr Peter Seah, Chairman, SingHealth

Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO, SingHealth

Professor Terrance Chua, Medical Director, National Heart Centre Singapore

Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

I am delighted to be here this morning to join you for the official opening of the new building of National Heart Centre Singapore.

Singaporeans are living longer and healthier lives. Our life expectancy has gone up steadily, from 75 years back in 1990 to about 83 years in 2013, which means for every year, we are living on average six months longer.  In large part, this is because economic growth has benefited all Singaporeans. Incomes have risen, standards of living have risen. We enjoy better education, better nutrition, better housing, better public health, and all these have contributed to a healthier, longer-lived population. So a large part of it doesn’t have to do with our hospitals. 

But our life expectancy has also gone up because we have a good and efficient healthcare system. A system which has provided Singaporeans with affordable, high quality care. A system which is sustainable, which we can afford, which uses resources efficiently, which does not burden future generations.  So I think if you look at the report card, we are doing quite well.  But we must continue to improve our healthcare system in many respects, so that we can continue to take care of Singaporeans as our population ages, as our needs change, and of course, as medical science advances.

We are working on many aspects of this at once.  In healthcare financing, we are implementing Medishield Life, a universal healthcare insurance which will provide “Better protection for all, for life”.  We have improved access to primary care, by upgrading existing polyclinics, for example, in Bedok and Ang Mo Kio.  We are building more polyclinics – two more in Pioneer and Punggol will be ready by 2017, and beyond that, another four will be ready by 2020.  We are also covering more people under the Community Health Assist Scheme (CHAS)1.  Since last year, the number of Singaporeans on CHAS has increased by 170%2.  And the number of private GP and dental clinics participating in CHAS has increased by 24%, nearly a quarter.  We are also building more acute hospitals and community hospitals, and expanding existing ones.  Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) in Jurong will open next year; Sengkang Hospital will open by 2018; and Woodlands Hospital, by 2022.  Each will have an adjacent community hospital, so that patients can be appropriately cared for in the right place for their needs.  For the existing hospitals, we are expanding them too.  Changi General Hospitals and St Andrew Community Hospital both have expansion projects and these will progressively open from the end of this year.  Together, these developments will add 4,000 beds to the healthcare system.

To complement hospital-based care, we are also developing more nursing homes.  We are going to increase the capacity of nursing homes to 17,000 beds by 2020, and we are expanding the number of day care centres and home care.  We are investing also not just in the hardware, but in the people, in our healthcare team, educating them, training them for specialist skills, and upgrading their career paths.  Ultimately, a good healthcare system is not only about the infrastructure and the equipment, but also the competent and the dedicated people who man it.  Here we are not just talking about doctors and surgeons, but also the whole supporting team – nurses, physiotherapists, radiographers, physiotherapists, lab staff.  The quality of the team is what determines the quality of the outcomes.  We are upgrading the career paths for all our healthcare professionals, keeping their wages competitive, developing them professionally to take on more responsibilities and to provide better care to patients.

Another important component of our healthcare system is our specialist centres, which are our peaks of excellence.  These also have to be constantly upgraded.  And that’s what we are doing today – upgrading our National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS).  Specialist centres deliver high quality care to patients who require specialised care.  For example, here in NHCS, emergency heart cases can get primary angioplasty – the immediate intervention to deploy a balloon to open a constricted blood vessel to improve a heart attack patient’s chances of survival.  To get the patient from the door into the procedure room and to have the procedure done all in quick time, calls for closely-coordinated processes and a well-drilled team.  Last year, NHCS’ median time to treatment was just over an hour – 65 minutes, from door to balloon, which is well below the internationally-agreed target time to treatment of 90 minutes.
So we have got a high quality centre, and we will improve it.  But we of course must know that specialist centres are not meant to treat all patients, because if every patient wants to go to a specialist centre in the first instance, then we would never be able to cope.  And it is not necessary.  The specialist centres like the NHCS are here for the complex cases, so that people who need the complex and sophisticated treatment most can receive them.  Of course, the centres are also training grounds for the next generations of specialists and healthcare professionals.  And they are also trailblazers in researching and developing better treatments for patients, which is why you heard Professor Chua tell you just now that there are one and a half floors worth of this building dedicated to research.

We are here today because we have built on our healthcare system for many, many years, through generations of specialists, of professors, of teachers, of mentors.  So today, as we open the new building, we must also thank the pioneers in cardiac care for NHCS’ successful history, including Professor Charles Toh, who established the first coronary care unit at SGH back in 1967, which had just two beds; Professor Arthur Tan, who was the founding Director of the Singapore Heart Centre, who developed NHCS into a premier cardiology training centre in the region; Dr C Sivathasan, who was part of the pioneer team that established the heart and lung transplant programme and was involved in the first heart transplant back in 1990; Professor Koh Tian Hai, who worked with international partners to create live teaching courses to raise the skills of many interventionists.  Many of them are here today, and I would like to say on behalf of all of us, thank you very much!
I hope the next generation of leadership and this leadership will build on the legacy of our pioneers to help NHCS to serve Singapore.  Congratulations on the new building, and may NHCS scale greater heights for many years to come!  Thank you very much.

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[1] CHAS covers common illnesses, selected chronic conditions, selected dental services and recommended health screening.

[2] The age limit for CHAS was removed, and the household monthly income per person criterion was raised from $1,500 to $1,800. For households with no income, the Annual Value (AV) of home criterion has been relaxed to $21,000 and below.