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National Medical Excellence Awards winners,


Distinguished colleagues and guests,


Ladies and gentlemen,


1.         I am happy to join you this evening at the 13th National Medical Excellence Awards (NMEA) Ceremony. 


Tribute and Recognition


2.         Tonight, we are in the company of eminent award recipients, who have made significant contributions in the fields of clinical practice, research, mentoring, education and healthcare delivery.  We are also in the company of healthcare professionals who stand in daily solidarity with all their colleagues and fellow officers in the frontline of the pandemic.


3.         Over the past few months, Singapore has entered cautiously into a phase which others have not gone before.  It is time of trepidation, frustration even, but also of hope.  We have seen thousands of cases a day, and we have mourned every death. This weight of living with COVID-19 has not been lightly borne.


4.         But Singapore did not go through the massive loss of human lives suffered by many other countries who had opened up before us.  This is because we protected each other from COVID-19 for the whole of last year and the large part of this year – through contact tracing, quarantine, tighter border measures and safe management measures. 


5.         Each one of us took steps to curtail our own freedoms, reduce our socialisation, and make the necessary sacrifices. We only started to gradually open up our society and economy a few months ago, when most of us had been vaccinated.


6.         Because of this unique approach, we have one of the lowest death rates in the world.  Our collective effort turned on a single fulcrum – our frontline of defence who shielded the population from the virus.  They are contact tracers, case managers, drivers and call operators; they are the steadfast officers who run swab operations, vaccination operations, and essential services.  They are those who stayed at their post when we went into Circuit Breaker last year.  We owe a deep debt of gratitude to them. 


7.         Today, in a different phase of the pandemic, our most intense battlefront is in healthcare.  Doctors and nurses do their best every day, to take care of every patient, and save every life. But sometimes, even their best is not enough. Every loss is immeasurably hard, for the family members, the loved ones, and for every doctor and every nurse.  The physical labour is hard enough – the emotional labour even more so.


8.         In recent weeks, the stress level went up several notches, as the transmission wave sustained at a high level, with more patients falling seriously ill and needing intensive care unit (ICU) care. 


9.         In response, our public hospitals had to set up more isolation and ICU beds. We had to embark on satellite operations in COVID-19 Treatment Facilities. There are nurses and doctors and other staff who were redeployed, who had to learn new skills on the go, and stretch their already long working hours even longer. Some healthcare workers have not gone back to their home countries to see their families for over a year. 


10.      Personal protective equipment (PPE) is now part of your daily work uniform. And for a long time, everyone lived with the uncertainty of colleagues or themselves being quarantined. When that happened, further challenges were layered upon an already stressful situation.  I hope that is now behind us with new healthcare protocols.


11.      This work is not for the faint-hearted. I have seen, with some anger and some shame, the disgraceful behaviour of those who shun nurses and healthcare workers, who turn away from you near your homes, who refuse your journeys. But I know every one of us in this room, and the great majority of our society deeply appreciates your work.  I stand with the many students and children in our schools, writing heartfelt letters and drawing delightful cards, to thank you, and to tell you that you are their heroes.


12.      The frontline stands between the virus and us. You are our last line of defence – standing between us and the abyss.  When vaccination, safe management, therapeutics and the patient’s last bodily resistance are all breached, you still refuse to yield. You stand next to the patient as his last hope.


13.      For your courage and invaluable work during the pandemic, the Ministry of Health will be conferring a COVID-19 Healthcare Award to our healthcare workers.  The award – amounting to $4,000 – will be conferred to three groups:


·      First, all staff of public healthcare institutions, such as acute hospitals, community hospitals and polyclinics;


·      Second, staff from community care organisations that deliver frontline healthcare services, such as in nursing homes;


·      Third, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will also award a grant of $10,000 to each of our Public Health Preparedness Clinics, which served as the first port of call for COVID-19 patients, to be shared amongst the staff of the clinics.


14.      In total, about 100,000 staff will receive the award.  Details will be shared by MOH through a press release. I know a monetary award does not fully reflect the contribution of healthcare workers, neither is it the main motivator of a healthcare worker.  But it is an appropriate thing for MOH to do, to recognise your contribution in this very exceptional year. 


15.      This pandemic may seem like an endless night. But no transmission wave lasts forever, and with each passing day, our societal antibodies are rising, our collective resistance is stronger, and we move closer to living with COVID-19, with fewer infections, and fewer people falling very sick. Soon, the dark will turn to light.


Innovation and Excellence


16.      Let me now talk about another special group of people in our healthcare sector – the award winners tonight. This is the story of the advancement of healthcare and the strive towards medical excellence in Singapore. 


17.      For this year’s ceremony, we will be honouring a total of nine individuals and three teams, who will be receiving the 2020 and 2021 National Medical Excellence Awards. You have seen the video of all their achievements.  They are all great examples of the spirit of excellence and innovation in healthcare. 


18.      I won’t be able to recount all their achievements.  We have Associate Professor Sum Chee Fang and Professor Dale Fisher, who are renowned leaders in their respective areas.  Chee Fang plays a key role in the strategic management of diabetes in Singapore; and Dale has been doing frontier work on infectious diseases prevention and control, including significantly reducing the Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus (MRSA) infection rates across Singapore hospitals.


19.      There are Professor Yong Eu Leong and Professor Chong Siow Ann, who are Singapore’s leading medical researchers.  Each of them has devoted over 30 years of their career in clinical practice and research. Eu Leong pushed the frontiers of knowledge in the areas of women’s health and human fertility and Siow Ann is a pioneer in championing mental health and wellness that shaped our national policies and programmes. 


20.      We also have Associate Professor Keson Tan who is passionate about the teaching and mentoring of dental students as well as expanding the field of knowledge in Prosthodontics. Associate Professor Wong Kok Seng plays a pivotal role in providing medical leadership, mentorship and policy oversight to a young team at the SingHealth Community Hospital.


21.      We are also honouring team efforts. There is the GPFirst programme, which started as a collaboration between Changi General Hospital and GPs of the eastern part of Singapore, with the intent of gradually changing the healthcare-seeking behaviour of patients, and allowing Accident and Emergency (A&E) services to be channelled towards higher-level care and emergency cases. 


Transformation and the Future


22.      The National Medical Excellence Award is one of the most important events in the MOH calendar. This is because innovation and transformation will be the lifeblood of the healthcare sector in the coming decade, for it will be a disruptive and tumultuous ten years. 


23.      We need to fundamentally rethink the way we deliver healthcare. One major disruption is the ageing population which will drive healthcare expenditure to increase from about $25 billion today to $60 billion by 2030 if we did nothing.  More than double.  There is even a risk that may not be able to fiscally afford healthcare expenditure as taxation may not be able to keep up.


24.      We must therefore shift the emphasis of healthcare.  Devote some resources early to help people stay healthy and prevent sickness, instead of expending intensive resources later for treating them when they become very sick. 


25.      We also need to rethink where and how healthcare is delivered.  We have started to shift the centre of gravity away from acute hospitals, to caring for patients within the community.  Since 2017, we have been proliferating Community Nursing, Hospital-to-Home and Outpatient-to-Community initiatives. These are important ground innovations.


26.      Technology and science will also offer us solutions.  We are revamping the IT backbone of our healthcare system, to have an integrated system that capture the data of patients, across all healthcare settings.  Upon this foundation, AI can be used to gain insights to population health, improve quality of clinical care, and nudge individuals to adopt healthier living habits.


27.      We will also need to continue to find innovative solutions to battle COVID-19 and future pandemics.  COVID-19 has pushed us to go far beyond our SARS playbook.  We have to set up alternate care facilities, roll out a comprehensive contact tracing system through TraceTogether and SafeEntry, support the great majority of patients through Home Recovery Programme and Telemedicine. 


28.      COVID-19 has turbo-charged the innovation process in healthcare.  We will build upon these capabilities further and make them part of our healthcare transformation.


29.      Today, I paid tribute to the frontliners and healthcare workers, because there is no tomorrow to worry about, if there is no victory against COVID-19 today.  Yet there is no meaning to victory today, only to lose to sickness and poor health tomorrow.


30.      So we must make innovation and transformation our top priority in healthcare.  Today, we see its key ingredients – talented people working together; the spirit of continuous learning and teaching, change, and improvement; and undergirding it all, the values of public service, dedication and professionalism even in the darkest of times.


31.      As Minister for Health, it has been a true honour to work alongside with you. Thank you.


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