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Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health, at Stroke Support Station Charity Gala Dinner, 5 May 2023, 7.00pm, at The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore

Ms Chang Hwee Nee, Chairman of Stroke Support Station

My Parliamentary and Cabinet colleagues

Board of S3, members of S3, distinguished guests, donors, ladies and gentlemen

1.     I am very happy to be here with all of you today to celebrate S3’s Charity Gala Dinner.

2.     Last week, I went for a short bicycle ride with Mr Joseph Tay. I struggled a little, as I am still recovering from a knee surgery, and it was the first time I cycled post-surgery. But it was nothing compared to what Joseph has to go through, as he is recovering from stroke.

3.     As I spoke with Joseph, I could see his grit, determination and most importantly, his optimism, in trying to regain his mobility and relive a normal life. Cycling has become part of his life, to press on with his recovery, and also keep him healthy. I asked him who has helped him the most. Other than his family, he said it has been the Stroke Support Station (S3).

4.     I am sure that S3 has helped many more stroke patients other than Joseph. Indeed, the number of stroke episodes in Singapore increased from 5,890 episodes in 2010, to about 8,840 episodes in 2020, due to ageing, as well as rising prevalence of chronic diseases, and this is expected to rise further as Singapore’s population ages.

5.     In line with this trend, S3 has grown significantly over the past few years. Today, you have two important community-based centres focusing on stroke rehabilitation, at the Enabling Village and Jurong Point.

6.     Your signature Wellness programme addresses the many challenges experienced by a stroke survivor, such as cognitive impairment, emotional and psychosocial difficulties, and social isolation.

7.     The number of members that S3 serves has grown from 24 in 2015, to more than 730 this year. As Ms Chang Hwee Nee shared earlier, S3’s impact extends beyond stroke recovery and support. You have made strides upstream towards stroke prevention in educating and addressing the root causes of stroke and promoting healthier lifestyle choices.

8.     You are also strengthening outreach to reach a wider audience and provide more personalised and convenient care.

9.     Today, S3 is a natural extension of the acute care system, to help stroke survivors better reintegrate into their community after discharge from hospitals. You are now also part of our nationwide One-Rehab initiative, to right site the recovering patients.

10.     The growth of S3, and its increasing contribution to our healthcare system, traces back to the visionary and pioneering spirit of Ms Chew Poh Yim. She founded S3 in 2015 as she saw the trend of a rising number of stroke patients, and believed there was a need for increased community support to reintegrate stroke survivors into society.

11.     At a time when Singapore started grappling with the challenges of an ageing population and was striving to bring healthcare out of hospitals into the community, the S3 project was very timely, even prescient.

12.     Tonight, please join me to honour her contributions, and her personal commitment to reshaping rehabilitation care in Singapore. Ms Chew’s work will be followed through by Hwee Nee and all of you, the staff and volunteers of S3. I thank you for continuing her legacy and contributing to the healthcare system of Singapore.

13.     The next phase of work for S3 will be even more meaningful and exciting. I have spoken a few times on the need to transform our healthcare system to prepare for a rapidly ageing society. Singapore will be a ‘super-aged’ society, with more than 21% of our population aged 65 and above, by 2026.

14.     It will require a different kind of healthcare system. When we are a young society, we largely just need an acute care system, meaning hospitals and specialist clinics, because people are young and seldom fall sick. For those who fall sick, the hospitals will take care of you. But when one in five people is aged 65 and above, you cannot run a healthcare system with just an acute care system, as the workload will crush the hospitals, and we are already feeling the tremendous workload in our hospitals. So we cannot overly rely on the acute care system, comprising specialist clinics and hospitals, because that system is mostly to cure patients, which is too late because the patients are already sick.

15.     We need a second and third healthcare system to be firing at the same time. The second system is the preventive care system to keep our population healthy. We are building this up through the Healthier SG national programme, to be officially rolled out from July this year. If you are 60 and above, please pick your favourite family doctor and enrol from July, to enjoy free benefits.

16.     The third system is the aged care system. Nursing homes, community care apartments and the likes of Kampung Admiralty will continue to be useful and needed, but they cannot be the default for aged care.

17.     The great majority of our seniors will need to age purposefully and actively in their current communities, while living in their existing homes or after right-sizing their flats. To make this possible, we need to devote resources and build up social and health support in our residential estates.

18.     It involves improving physical infrastructure like barrier-free access, parks and exercise facilities. We need to expand physical centres such as Active Ageing Centres (AACs) to serve as a focal point for social interactions amongst seniors. Social interaction is the best medicine for seniors. We need the help of charitable organisations and volunteers to operate the centres, run programmes, outreach and befriend seniors etc. It will be a massive exercise to mobilise all our social assets to change the ageing landscape of Singapore.

19.     S3 can play a part. I am therefore glad that the Ministry of Health (MOH) has awarded a transitional grant to S3, to support your effort to build up capabilities in this area. In fact, we need all social care organisations to play a part to build up our aged care system. Let me explain why.

20.     When speaking to the specialists of every disease group, be it for stroke, diabetes, cardiac diseases or neurodegenerative diseases, the intervention and treatment of each disease differ greatly, which is to be expected.

21.     But if you probe the specialists further on the preventive steps, the interventions converge – don’t smoke, good diet, regular exercise, adequate sleep, healthy social interactions, and regular health screenings.

22.     These are inexpensive and practical adjustments to lifestyles that we can all do, that can lower the risk of being inflicted with most diseases. But unlike acute care which is always immediate and urgent, there is no hurry for preventive care, which means we tend to procrastinate, and leave it until it is too late.

23.     To get people to practise preventive care and adopt healthy lifestyle habits, we need to support and remind people constantly, across all our social care organisations. It requires all hands on deck so that we can make a decisive change upstream, before diseases start to set in.

24.     Hence, MOH is developing a basic menu of services which we hope all AACs can deliver. It involves social activities, physical exercises, perhaps health screening, so that every centre and social service organisation can contribute to preventive care and bring about this strategic change.

25.     So while S3’s strong expertise is in stroke rehabilitation care for registered patients, it will be a great help if this dedicated service sits on top of this basic menu of services, that is accessible to all residents.

26.     Ageing is a major social transformation for Singapore. To meet this challenge, we will need to transform our healthcare system too. We hope all our institutions and partners join us to forge ahead in this major enterprise. It will inevitably require us to change or adjust the way we operate and step out of our comfort zones. MOH will do our best to support you and we will do this together.

27.     On this note, I wish everyone an enjoyable evening, and hope that S3 will achieve your fundraising target tonight. Please contribute generously. Thank you.


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