Since independence, Singapore has charted through several crises, adapted to the changing world, while strengthening our social compact to keep our society strong. Many members of the house have shared how COVID-19 has accelerated change and uncertainties. As we recover, we must continue to renew our social compact – enabling our people to be resilient in overcoming future challenges.
2. Our healthcare system is a critical part of our social compact. We will continue to transform it to become a proactive and inclusive care system for all Singaporeans – enabling them to attain good health and live well. We will build resilience in every individual throughout life – designing our care system to address Singaporeans’ health needs and risks across the life course. Today, I will highlight how we are doing this at two ends of the spectrum – first, starting well in life; and second, ageing well.
Promoting Child and Maternal Health and Well-being
3. For our young, we need to help them start well and achieve their fullest potential.
4. International research shows that the early years of life are a critical window for development – with lasting impact on later life outcomes. This extends to even before the child is born, during the antenatal stage.
5. Locally, the Growing Up in Singapore towards Healthy Outcomes, or GUSTO, study found similar evidence that a mother’s health can directly influence her child’s development, which Ms Ng Ling Ling spoke about.
6. These findings underscore the importance of intervening early in life, to prevent disadvantages from snowballing, and that parents play a key role for a child’s long-term development.
7. Mr Leon Perera will be happy to know that it was to this end that the Government launched and is scaling up KidSTART, to give children from low-income families a good start in life through upstream support. We equip KidSTART parents with skills and knowledge to support their child’s development, physical and socio-emotional well-being.
8. At our hospitals, the National University Hospital started an intervention programme called ProPEL – Promoting Parental Emotional Health to Enhance Child Learning. It supports mothers and mothers-to-be from low-income families through pregnancy into motherhood to enhance the child’s development and learning. Ms Nurdiana joined the programme during the early stages of her pregnancy. She struggled with anxiety after being diagnosed with an autoimmune disease and had lost her job. The ProPEL team provided psychological interventions – helping her work through her fears and anxieties on health, pregnancy and motherhood. With the support, Ms Nurdiana developed skills to better manage her stress and anxiety. She is now more confident to start her journey as a mother.
9. The National Healthcare Group is partnering with a few primary schools on the Living Well@School pilot. It aims to build awareness and motivation in choosing healthier food options for the young. Children are coached on healthier eating choices, while parents and teachers are equipped with resources to scaffold the child’s journey to embrace healthy living.
10. While we have made good strides in promoting the health and well-being of children and their families upstream, we will continue to invest even more, so that we can have a healthier next generation. We must do so in a coordinated manner, across social, health and education boundaries.
11. Therefore I am pleased to announce that MOH will develop a Child and Maternal Health and Well-being Strategy to provide comprehensive support to women and their children. We will drive the Strategy and Action Plan through an inter-agency taskforce, over a five-year period. Its scope will span from pre-conception to adolescents aged 18 years old – many critical developmental milestones occur then. These are part of our larger efforts to improve the population’s health by addressing individual health needs and modifiable risk factors, beyond the healthcare domain.
12. The Taskforce will focus on cross-cutting issues that require multiple agencies to collaborate and address decisively, to achieve a common goal of better health, social and education outcomes for our young. We will review our service delivery processes
to integrate our services better, across the domains.
13. Our plans will be anchored on what matters most to mothers and their children. Since early this year, the Taskforce has already started engaging various groups of parents and stakeholders, to better understand their challenges in fostering a healthy lifestyle in their children, and in accessing services. We found their feedback very insightful and will continue to facilitate more conversations throughout the year.
Going Beyond Provision of Care for Our Seniors
14. Next, on the second group – our seniors. While COVID-19 has posed many challenges, it also presents us with new opportunities to further transform our support for them.
Refresh Of Action Plan For Successful Ageing
15. In this spirit, we have embarked on a refresh of the Action Plan for Successful Ageing. Since its launch in 2015, we have made significant progress on many fronts. We raised the retirement age, provided seniors with opportunities to learn and volunteer, and rolled out the Pioneer and Merdeka Generation Packages. Nevertheless, our plans must continue to evolve to meet the needs and aspirations of current and future generations.
16. Achieving these aspirations is only possible through a whole-of-society, citizen-centric effort that brings together everyone to “turn silver into gold”. I am glad to share with Mr Yip Hon Weng that we have started engagement sessions since last October to partner citizens on the refreshed Action Plan. I encourage everyone to join this meaningful national SGTogether effort! Having participated in some sessions myself, I am deeply encouraged by the diverse discussions and participants’ aspirations to age well.
17. Beyond this, Mr Tan Wu Meng and other members have also asked about our ongoing efforts to enhance support for seniors. I would like to share about three areas – first, our care landscape; second, caregiver support; and third, developing the community care sector.
Update On Launch Of Community Care Apartments
18. In our care landscape, we launched the new Community Care Apartments in Bukit Batok last month – a novel public housing-cum-care concept. The flats integrate senior-friendly housing features with care services and community building through social interaction and communal spaces.
19. When I visited the exhibition at HDB Hub, a senior told me that she had been long awaiting this! Others said they appreciated the communal spirit that it brings, greater assurance to age independently and the range of programmes to keep them active. The flats were oversubscribed, with more than four seniors applying for each flat. We will continue to work with the Ministry of National Development on planning for additional sites.
Update On Launch Of The New Eldercare Centre Service
20. Last December, we announced a new Eldercare Centre service to serve all seniors nationwide. These centres would be key nodes in our social support and care landscape, and the first batch of centres will start from 1 May 2021.
21. MOH will set aside about $180 million to complete the rollout of over 200 centres by 2024. Each will provide a common suite of “ABC” services – Active ageing programmes, Befriending, and connecting to Care services. Seniors can participate in wellness activities; or have their queries about care services and support schemes answered. Befrienders will also reach out to those with little social support.
22. To better reflect the new model, centres that provide the suite of “ABC” services
will be named “Active Ageing Centres”. Today, some centres provide care services, such as day care and community rehabilitation. They will be called “Active Ageing Care Hubs” once they come onboard to provide the new “ABC” services on top of their existing regular care services.
Strengthening Support for Caregivers
23. Next, on caregivers – they play a key role in supporting seniors to age well in the community. To support them better, MOH launched the Caregiver Support Action Plan (CSAP) two years ago.
24. In response to Ms Yeo Wan Ling and Mr Yip, I am pleased to share that MOH, AIC and various community partners have rolled out all the initiatives under the CSAP. I will share a couple of examples.
25. First, we launched the Home Caregiving Grant two years ago, providing a cash grant to help with caregiving costs. More than 29,000 caregivers have since benefitted. To Mr Yip Hon Weng’s query, we are also reviewing the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund to further defray costs of caregiving.
26. Second, we set up touchpoints within the community to support seniors and their caregivers. For example, the Silver Generation Office refers frail and homebound seniors to the Medical Escort and Transport service to assist them in getting to their medical appointments.
27. Third, we also have various caregiver respite services. We introduced the home-based respite care pilot in September 2019 for palliative cancer patients, and expanded this in 2021 to all patients receiving home palliative care, regardless of diagnosis.
28. Fourth, we will be launching a new grant call this year on the Caregiving Ecosystem, under the National Innovation Challenge on Active and Confident Ageing, to support research on innovative solutions for sustainable caregiving.
29. Fifth, we have worked with community partners to set up four caregiver community outreach teams to better support caregivers at risk of burn-out or developing mental health needs. We will increase this to six teams by year-end. We have also established seven caregiver support networks in Dementia-Friendly Communities, enabling peer support among caregivers.
30. In addition, we will pilot a structured support system for caregivers of loved ones first diagnosed with dementia. We will proactively support and equip these persons with dementia and their caregivers with information upon the first diagnosis. I will also share more on the support measures we have for caregivers of Persons with Disabilities in my MSF COS speech.
Providers in the ILTC Sector
31. Finally, developing our community care sector. To better serve seniors’ needs, we have expanded the capacity of community care services. Since 2015, we have added 4,600 day care places, as well as 3,100 home care places for home-bound seniors. We have also added 4,000 nursing home beds to cater to frail seniors with less family support.
32. We share Mr Ang Wei Neng’s concern about the impact of COVID-19 on the construction of nursing homes. To mitigate this, we are working with providers to open up currently non-operational beds. AIC also helps seniors and caregivers with alternative care arrangements while awaiting nursing home placement, such as the Interim Caregiver Service for short-term home-based custodial care, and the Integrated Home and Day Care programme. Seniors or caregivers who need help can approach AIC for further assistance.
33. Before I conclude, let me summarise my speech in Malay: Sistem penjagaan kesihatan amat penting untuk membina sistem sokongan sosial yang padu. Kami akan terus memperbaikinya untuk memberikan penjagaan kesihatan yang proaktif dan inklusif untuk semua warga Singapura.
34. Kami akan melakarkan Strategi Kesihatan dan Kesejahteraan Kanak-Kanak dan Ibu yang meliputi 5 tahun. Pelan ini akan memberikan sokongan menyeluruh kepada kaum ibu dan anak-anak kecil mereka pada fasa-fasa hidup yang penting, untuk menghasilkan perkembangan kesihatan, sosial dan pendidikan yang lebih baik untuk generasi akan datang.
35. Untuk warga emas, kami akan bekerjasama dengan agensi-agensi dan individu dari pelbagai latar belakang untuk sama-sama memiliki dan menjayakan inisiatif-inisiatif baru melalui pembaharuan Pelan Tindakan Penuaan Berjaya.
36. In closing, we are in good stead to address the future’s challenges, by identifying points of intervention upstream and strengthening support in the community. These are part of our continuous efforts to renew our social compact, to safeguard our future as a strong, resilient and caring society.