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Mr Tan Tee How, Chairman, National Healthcare Group (NHG)


Mdm Kay Kuok and Mr Michael Lim, Former Chairpersons, NHG


Professor Philip Choo, Group CEO, NHG


Professor Tan Suat Hoon, Director, National Skin Centre


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen



1.             It is my great pleasure to join you today for the official opening of National Skin Centre’s (NSC) new building. This year also marks NSC’s 35th anniversary. The launch today is both a significant milestone for NSC and dermatology in Singapore.


Dermatology in Singapore


2.             The origins of Dermatology in Singapore can be traced back to the government’s venereal disease (VD) treatment centre in the 1940s, called the Middle Road Hospital (MRH). In 1957, the centre evolved into a dedicated skin clinic at MRH, going beyond VD. That became Singapore’s first hospital that could treat various skin conditions.


3.             At that time, there was only a handful of trained local dermatologists. But the numbers grew over 30 years, and in 1988, Singapore opened our first national centre dedicated to managing skin conditions, now known as the NSC. The new NSC then broadened its mission far beyond that of the MRH, to develop dermatology as a medical specialty through training, education and research.


Growing Burden of Skin Diseases


4.             Having developed this specialty over the last 35 years, what is in store for the future of dermatology in Singapore? I think there is a lot.


5.             Our skin is the body’s largest organ. It is also very important to all of us as it defines how we look, which in turn defines how we feel, and our sense of self and identity. It also presents conspicuously a person’s overall health and wellbeing. Conditions such as diabetes, nutritional deficiencies or autoimmune diseases can manifest through our skin. Based on the Global Burden of Disease findings in 2019, skin and subcutaneous diseases were one of the top leading causes of non-fatal disease burden for years lived in disability in Singapore.


6.             The prevalence of various skin conditions will continue to increase and this will be driven by some major inexorable trends.  


7.             First, ageing. As we age, our skin becomes thinner and can easily break down. It can also become dry and flaky. Seniors are therefore more susceptible to conditions such as eczema. Additionally, the longer a person lives, the risk of skin cancers rises. This is on top of the comorbidities and complex care needs that seniors are likely to experience with ageing.


8.             Second, global warming is going to drive skin disease burden. Singapore has been experiencing hotter weathers. The hottest day in Singapore’s history was registered this year on 13 May, when the highest daily maximum temperature reached 37 degrees Celsius. Our skin bears the brunt of all these elements. With our hot weather and humid environment, we are more prone to developing various skin conditions.


Role of NSC


9.             Hence, we expect our dermatological needs to increase and we are doing various things to address these needs.


10.          First, expanding our infrastructure and services. In this regard, the new NSC building will have 69 consultation rooms compared to 40 at its former premises. The spaces are designed for easy patient navigation, and to facilitate multidisciplinary care, for different specialists to work together.


11.          NSC’s phototherapy services have also expanded by 30%, providing patients with greater time savings and convenience.


12.          Furthermore, NSC’s new Skin Allergy and Therapy Clinic will be a one-stop centre for patients who require intravenous therapies. These patients will no longer need to be in a hospital to undergo intravenous therapies. This would improve patient experience and efficiency of care, and can potentially free up some beds at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and other hospitals.


13.           Second, training for healthcare workers. The new NSC will provide enhanced dermatological training at multiple levels, from undergraduate to post-graduate.


14.          With Healthier SG, we expect primary care doctors to also play an increasing role in managing common skin conditions. NSC will continue to train primary care doctors through the Graduate Diploma in Family Practice Dermatology programme, to better support the skin care needs of our population.


15.          The third is the better use of telemedicine. NSC’s tele-dermatology service, called Tele-DERM, was piloted in partnership with NHG Polyclinics in 2016. Tele-DERM helps link up polyclinic doctors with dermatology specialists remotely and quickly. The initiative has helped improve patient care, and avoided unnecessary referrals to NSC.


16.          More recently, NSC has also extended tele-consultations to more patients, especially those who are elderly, frail and immobile. As of August 2023, NSC has attended to nearly 4,000 cases through its tele-dermatology services. There are two links formed. One is between NSC and the doctors, so that doctors can consult the specialists here. At the same time, the specialists can extend tele-consultations to patients directly. What we are seeing throughout the healthcare system is a greater use of tele-medicine. I think this is one of the outcomes of COVID-19, and we are now embracing this modality of service in a judicious way.


17.          Fourth, continue our research effort in dermatology. Being the national centre for dermatology with a large caseload, NSC is well-positioned to conduct meaningful research. NSC has identified priority areas for research, such as eczema, chronic inflammatory skin diseases and skin cancers, which are especially relevant to an ageing population like Singapore.


18.          Finally, continue to emphasise preventive care. This is in line with our larger push through Healthier SG.  Like all other diseases, there is much we can do to protect our skin to prevent the onset of skin diseases. This includes simple things, such as using of sunblock, having the right diet, and moisturising our skin regularly. NSC is advocating preventive skin care through educational forums, better outreach and promotion.


19.          I was recently in Europe for the World Health Assembly and spoke to a few European Health Ministers, including the Dutch and German Ministers. I asked them about the main driver for their healthcare reforms. The main push for us are Healthier SG, Age Well SG, preventive care, and expanding our healthcare capacity. For them, the biggest and most difficult move is to set up national specialists centres or centres of excellence. For them, having multiple centres of excellence has resulted in these becoming diffused, and hence they are trying consolidate and focus their expertise and resources.


20.          We are so lucky that we have already embarked on this strategy. Let us not veer from it. Over the years, we have seen our national centres of excellence grow and mature. NSC is one of the several national specialty centres in Singapore which helps to support the healthcare needs of our population. By establishing these centres, we focus our efforts, consolidate our resources, sharpen our research, and build up our expertise so that these centres of excellence can serve the whole healthcare ecosystem.




21.          This building has been many years in the making – six years and through COVID-19. I would like to thank all our clinicians, healthcare workers and staff, past and present, for developing the dermatology specialty all these years. Today, we open a new NSC to mark your hard work and achievements. There is a lot more to work for, and new heights to reach for. Congratulations on the opening of your new building and I wish you all the best. Thank you.

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