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Speech by Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health at the Dover Park Hospice Virtual Sunflower Dinner, 15 Oct 2021

Dr Tony Tan, patron of Dover Park Hospice, and Mrs Mary Tan 

Associate Professor Jeremy Lim, Chairman of Dover Park Hospice

Distinguished Guests

Ladies and Gentlemen

1.      Good evening everyone. I am honoured to join you this evening for Dover Park Hospice’s second Virtual Sunflower Dinner. 

2.      I like to especially acknowledge the presence of Dr Tony Tan and Mrs Mary Tan this evening. As patron of the hospice, cherished benefactor, Dr Tony Tan has given DPH his unwavering support throughout the years. Thank you very much. MOH is especially grateful for that, as we regard DPH as a critically important institution in our healthcare landscape.

3.      DPH has grown significantly since it was first established as Singapore’s first purpose-built inpatient hospice and that was in 1992. It started with just 40 inpatient beds, and today, it provides a full suite of palliative care services – from home-based, centre-based to inpatient palliative care.

4.      Over the last 29 years, DPH has provided care to more than 12,000 patients and their families. In 2020 alone, DPH admitted close to 1,000 palliative care patients across their services and more patients will benefit when DPH expands its inpatient service to 100 beds at its next Integrated Care Hub next year.

5.      It is not easy to talk about palliative care in Singapore and in fact in many places. As an Asian society, it is a sensitive topic to broach with families, and have a delicate conversation about death. But it is important to do so, because it is better for the dying if we understand their wishes, their hopes, and to prepare them, and to prepare ourselves.

6.      I have seen both my parents passing away, towards the end, the palliative nurse was the most important pillar of support for my family. And she could explain what we are to expect. She could explain how my mother or my father is feeling, and generally put us in a much better place. My regret was that I could not bring my parents home on both occasions, and they died in hospitals.  I am quite sure that that would have been their wish, and it will certainly be mine when I am older and time to go. But I never had those conversations with my parents, and have not had one with my family either.  

7.      I was therefore moved when I read the story of the late Mr Lim Ah Tee, whose request for a terminal discharge home from TTSH was made possible because of the efforts undertaken by the DPH team, even amidst the pandemic. Mr Lim fulfilled his wish to spend his final days at home, with his family members beside him.

8.      And I thank DPH’s efforts to raise awareness on such difficult to discuss end-of-life issues, and it includes using social media to encourage the start of such conversations early and correcting misperceptions that accompanies it.

9.      Palliative care is becoming more important in Singapore. As Singapore ages, the number of patients in Singapore requiring holistic palliative care will also increase. Having high quality palliative care is therefore not just a public health priority, but also a key pillar of a compassionate healthcare system, the path to a dignified peaceful death. 

10.      That is why we are developing palliative care in Singapore.  Conventionally focussed on cancer patients, it is increasingly being extended to non-cancer patients as we experience a shift in disease burden. DPH has been swift to identify and act on these trends by offering home care services targeting key chronic diseases, such as dementia and end-stage organ failure. One example is Programme Dignity, which started in 2014 and has benefitted 700 dementia patients.

11.      We must ensure that palliative services remain affordable as well. The government has provided funding to support the development and delivery of quality and affordable palliative care services across the care settings. However, there are times and circumstances when this may not be enough, due to individual situations where a patient would require more financial assistance beyond government subsidies.

12.      Donations are therefore needed, so that when the situation requires it, DPH can provide heavily subsidised palliative care services, or free services, for needy patients. To do so, DPH holds its flagship fundraising event annually, without fail, COVID or not. The rules do not allow us to have a physical dinner this evening, so DPH swiftly adapted to a virtual format this year. DPH is committed to provide heavily subsidised, affordable palliative care.

13.      I thank everyone present this evening, for your support and help to DPH all these years. I am honoured to be part of the effort to raise funds for a noble cause, and will continue to count on your support. Finally, I thank the organising committee, donors, and sponsors for your efforts in making this event happen. Have a great evening.

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