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Ms. K Thanaletchimi, President, Healthcare Services Employees’ Union


Professor Yeoh Khay Guan, Chief Executive, National University Health System


Partners, friends and colleagues


1.             It is my pleasure to be here at the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union’s (HSEU) National Day Observance Ceremony (NDOC). Today we are doing two things. One, is to observe National Day. Two, we are launching the National University Health System (NUHS) Academy.


2.             Skills and productivity are one of the key issues that tripartite partners in government, employers and union have always been focused on. I spent a large part of my career in education and training and these are issues that are very close to my heart. I am very happy that NUHS is launching their own academy today. The strategy is important to the organisation as well as workers.


3.             Today we are formally launching the NUHS Academy. It started as a vision three years ago to bring together workforce development programmes across healthcare professionals, which includes doctors, nurses, allied health, administrators and professionals. It is going to be an academy for everyone.


4.             In the build up to the establishment of the academy, NUHS has developed individual development roadmap plans for all its employees. This is not easy to do. I am not sure if it will work for everybody, but it is a good start. It is the same way that Healthier SG will develop health plans for everybody. It is not easy, but we have to start somewhere. After that, through an iterative process, we improve it. That is the responsibility of the organisation and HR, but there is also a great deal of responsibility by the employees themselves. In the case of the Healthier SG health plans, it is the residents themselves who will take ownership, with an iterative process to improve their health plan.


5.             In developing this plan, NUHS collaborated with the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) to pilot the NTUC LearningHub’s Learning eXperience Platform. There are 75,000 Mass Open Online Courses already available. This is a good platform for us to ride on.


6.             NUHS Academy has also partnered with the Healthcare Academy, a collaboration between HSEU and Employment and Employability Institute (e2i), as well as NTUC Learning Hub to upskill Patient Services Associates (PSA). Alexandra Hospital is their first client, and the first batch of 60 PSAs will start their frontline management training later this month.


7.             As the healthcare system is undergoing a major reform, I expect the job of healthcare workers, as nurses, PSAs, allied health and pharmacists, to evolve. I think there is an opportunity once we move healthcare away from acute settings, and from hospitals into the community. Jobs and responsibilities will evolve and training will be needed to prepare our future healthcare workers for these new job responsibilities.


8.             Today, the other objective of the NDOC is to observe National Day. In particular, this is an NDOC with a tripartite partner, HSEU. I spent a few years in NTUC and every year during National Day, we were reminded that the idea of NDOC started from the unions. Tripartism lies at the heart of NDOCs because tripartism also lies at the heart of our nation’s continued sovereignty and independence. This is because everything begins at home. When we have internal harmony at home and all parties are working together, we are internally strong and thus internationally, we can stand on our own and be proud to be Singaporeans.


9.             Internally, one of the most important collaborations is between the tripartite partners of workers represented by the unions, employers, in this case represented by hospitals, and the government, which determines policies. In the early years of Singapore’s independence, tripartite partners came together to decide that we did not have to be at odds with each other. If we fought all the time with protests and demonstrations, we were just splitting the pie. The end result is that the pie will get smaller over the time.


10.          But if we get together and collectively collaborate to enlarge the pie, we are in a much better position. We will honour our word and make sure that workers get their fair share of the pie. That is essentially how tripartism came into being and Singapore achieves the industrial harmony and stability that we enjoy.


11.          This, I feel, was very well demonstrated when weathered the COVID-19 pandemic crisis together. In three years, we came out with the world recognising that we have one of the best responses. Many lives were tragically lost, but overall, we have one of the lowest excess death rates in the world. This again goes back to tripartism and how we work together.


12.          From the start, there was clear instruction from the Prime Minister to protect the healthcare system, and prevent it from collapsing in the midst of a pandemic. From a government’s policy point of view, we must protect the healthcare system. We must protect hospitals, healthcare workers and patients, and never let the hospitals be overwhelmed. There will be some economic costs if we need to lock down with a circuit breaker, but we must always protect our hospitals and healthcare workers. We must make sure that our healthcare workers are as safe as possible even during a pandemic, as they were putting themselves in harm’s way.


13.          In terms of priority, our healthcare workers had access to personal protective equipment (PPE) – masks, gowns and gloves. When vaccination became available, healthcare workers were able to get it. We did whatever we could to support the morale and work of our healthcare workers. They in turn came forward and did whatever they could to discharge their duties even during the pandemic. It is this attitude of all three parties stepping forward and not pointing fingers at each other, that we have managed to pull through the crisis together.


14.          This year’s NDOC is the first one since DOSRCON Green was declared, I thought it is particularly important and pertinent in terms of upholding tripartism. I should acknowledge that HSEU, at the height of the crisis, made a very good suggestion to allow sick leave for healthcare workers to be recorded as hospitalisation leave. It was a simple but quite brilliant idea. In that way, healthcare workers need not take unpaid leave if they had consumed all their sick leave. So we implemented it.


15.          Over the past few months since we declared DORSCON Green, time and again, I would get complaint letters from patients or their families on long wait time, especially at the emergency departments (ED) and sometimes wards. Some of them were understanding but others were obviously frustrated. But I was reading The Straits Times’ Forum page today and there was a very nice letter saying that Singapore’s healthcare system has been ranked number one in the world by the Legatum Institute based in the UK.


16.          I suppose for every healthcare system post COVID-19, we have our challenges. Post COVID-19 healthcare is not the same as pre COVID-19 healthcare. The workload is getting a lot higher. In the case of Singapore where our population is ageing, hospitals and healthcare workers can see that the complexities of patients’ conditions are much higher compared to the past. It therefore adds to the workload. The fact that infrastructure development has been delayed means the situation is worse.


17.          On the other hand, we continue to be recognised around the world as one of the best healthcare systems in the world. Our population is one of the healthiest and that is not to be taken lightly as well.


18.          I think the best attitude for us is the spirit of tripartism, and I have two wishes. One, be proud of what we have achieved, which is a well-functioning and professional healthcare system that we can all uphold. At the same time, do not let that cause complacency but build upon it to improve.


19.          We are undergoing a major change in our healthcare system. This includes moving to Healthier SG, and leveraging community partners and stakeholders to enable ageing in place. We are launching another major national programme to do this. A lot is going on for healthcare system. Be proud of what we have, but build upon it. This is really the spirit of tripartism at work. We work together to make this achievement possible. We know that we need to support healthcare workers in this time of high workload and big changes. We are supporting them however we can.


20.          This year, we are recruiting as many as we can – locals as well as foreign healthcare workers. The target is 4,000, and we are likely to exceed that. We have announced a sign-on bonus for local nurses joining the healthcare system this year. We are working on a long-term retention incentive bonus for nurses so that they can stay in the system and be able to benefit from a career in the public healthcare system. At the same time, on the government’s part, we do whatever we can to make sure our policies are sensible and beneficial, and ultimately to take good care of our patients in Singapore.


21.            As Singapore becomes a super aged society in the next 10 years, the healthcare system is critical for Singapore to address and overcome the challenges of an ageing population. This requires tripartism to be at its finest. On this National Day, the first one since DORSCON Green, I wish tripartism continues to flourish and I look forward to working closely with our hospital clusters, as well as HSEU. Let’s move onward and make our healthcare system even better. Thank you very much.

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