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Speech By Minister For Health, Mr Ong Ye Kung, At The Nurses’ Merit Award 2021, 7 July 2021

Ms Paulin Koh, Chief Nursing Officer,
Distinguished Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen 

       It gives me great pleasure today to join you for the 2021 Nurses’ Merit Award.  This is a noble profession because every day, you touch the lives of many people through your dedication, care and compassion.  While this is the first time I am officiating this ceremony, it is not the first time I worked with nurses.  

2.    In 2005, I was leading the new Statutory Board called Workforce Development Agency (WDA).  It was around that time that we recognised that the economy is evolving rapidly, and we need to retrain mid-career workers to switch into new professions and industry sectors.  So we started a new scheme. It has a big name, called Strategic Manpower Conversion Programme (SMCP). Today we just call it Professional Conversion Programme. 

3.    We needed a successful pilot programme, and so we asked ourselves: which profession should these mid-career workers convert into?  It should be a sector that offers a good career and in great need for manpower.  And therefore, SCMP (Nursing) got started, and that was also how Nanyang Polytechnic started its mid-career nursing programme. 

4.    Training duration was long, and quite expensive, but Government provided the budget nevertheless. 

5.    As it turned out, it was really difficult to recruit trainees. Despite the heightened interest in a nursing career due to your heroic contributions during SARS, many mid-career jobseekers let pass the opportunity.  

6.    I left WDA for my next assignment at NTUC without making a lot of headway. But my successors did. They kept working at it with MOH, and with the participating hospitals, and enrolment grew. Career paths and remuneration improved. Nanyang Polytechnic integrated its nursing programmes for young students and mid-career individuals into one, and also expanded its intake over the years. Ngee Ann Polytechnic jumped into the fray. National University of Singapore got into the space and offered an undergraduate programme which is very popular today. So there are now expanded offerings from Nitec, diploma, to degree level training for nurses. Nursing intakes have also grown. The Nursing Board reviewed the entry criteria for Registered Nurses to focus less on academic results achieved when young and upgrading from Enrolled Nurses to Registered Nurses became common and widely aspired by ITE graduates.  

7.    More importantly, the prestige of being a nurse grew and enhanced.  A milestone was reached in 2015 when Dr Pauline Tan became the first nurse to be appointed the CEO of a hospital – the Yishun Community Hospital. I was on the Board of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital then, and everyone in the Board, and I’m sure every medical worker and, healthcare worker in the hospital was so happy and so proud of her. Adjunct Associate Professor Selina Seah is another nurse who was appointed as the assistant CEO of Changi General Hospital.

8.    While the nursing profession has come a long way, we are committed to continue to develop the nursing profession. 

9.    Pay is of course important. Senior Minister of State Koh Poh Koon announced in March that nurses from public healthcare institutions and publicly-funded community care organisations can look forward to pay increases in the next two years.  But more importantly, we need to develop your skills, and your careers. Let me cite a few important initiatives. 

10.    First, in January last year, we launched the Community Nursing Competency Framework which provides a roadmap for skills development for community nurses. Two other competency frameworks are now in the pipeline to meet the growing needs of our ageing population – one is for geriatric nursing, and the other, for palliative care nursing. 

11.    Second important initiative, is the National Nursing Academy, or NNA, which was launched in March 2020. It is a one stop portal to meet the learning needs of nurses. The courses listed on the portal are delivered by various healthcare institutions and Institutes of Higher Learning.  To date, a total of 58 short courses are available on the portal.  

12.    But beyond a good listing of courses, the NNA encourages collaboration amongst the healthcare institutions, to synergise their efforts, reduce duplication, and recognise each other’s training credentials.  As NNA also accredits the courses across healthcare institutions, this means that skills learnt are recognised and portable across hospitals and settings. 

13.    Third initiative, we will continue to strengthen the training for Advanced Practice Nurses (APNs).  These are nurses who have met advanced clinical requirements, through the Master of Nursing programme and also completion of an APN internship. 

14.    This year, we will launch a new integrated APN internship or IAI programme to facilitate an early integration of Master of Nursing graduates to their respective areas of clinical practice. A key feature of the IAI programme will be the Entrustable Professional Activities. These are the tasks that an APN can be trusted to perform once sufficient competence has been demonstrated at the workplace, through workplace assessments. Certified competency to perform these tasks then form the requirement towards the APN certification. 

15.    Interns who are progressing well also have the option to enroll into the National Collaborative Prescribing Programme to attain prescribing rights. As of May this year, there are a total of 294 APNs, amongst whom 57 have prescribing rights. By 2030, we aim to have trained up to 700 APNs with prescribing rights. 

16.    To further grow the APN pipeline, we cannot just rely on medical colleagues for teaching and training. We have started to progressively develop a faculty of APN Leads and Preceptors across institutions. As of May this year, 180 APNs have been trained as preceptors to provide clinical preceptorship and supervision to APN interns and students from the Master of Nursing programme. 

17.    In closing, amid the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, my sincere thanks go to all nurses for playing a crucial role in the fight against this pandemic. I believe there is renewed respect for nurses because of the crisis our nation is going through.  

18.    Many of you have been going through a lot of stress over the past 16 months, including when TTSH has been down with many nurses on quarantine. But nurses are resilient, and you forge on as always. 

19.    Vaccinations is a major prong of our strategy against COVID-19, and nurses again, you are on the ground executing the strategy in all our vaccination centres.  Many of you are involved in vaccination operations, one way or another, be it in hospitals, polyclinics or vaccination centres. You have been working hard at the frontlines and I want to thank all of you for the vital role you play in keeping our loved ones and Singaporeans safe. With all your hard work, we will once again prevail over this wave of transmission.

20.    This year, we have a total of 125 award recipients, our biggest cohort to date. All the recipients have consistently shown outstanding performance and contribution to the nursing profession, some with more than twenty years of experience. 

21.    Once again, my warmest congratulations to our 2021 Nurses’ Merit Award recipients. Thank you for your selfless contributions to our healthcare system. I wish all of you a Happy Nurses Day!

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