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My Parliamentary Colleagues, Mr Vikram Nair and Ms Mariam Jaafar
Colleagues, friends, grassroots leaders, and residents
1. Good morning. It is my pleasure to join you today at the official opening of Sembawang Polyclinic, on its first day of operations. This continues our new tradition of officially opening a polyclinic on its first day of operations, which I think is more meaningful for residents.
2. First, I am here not just as the Health Minister, but this is also my constituency. Where we are is a special project and development called Bukit Canberra, which started off as a concept to build a stadium here. Then-Minister Khaw Boon Wan and I decided to keep as much of the contour, greenery and history of the place as possible, and to integrate the facilities instead. It has been a long journey, but today we are seeing it take shape. 
Update on Bukit Canberra development
3. Sembawang Polyclinic is one feature which the residents have really been looking forward to. Even the hawkers are looking forward to its opening because they know it will drive traffic. I was told by the staff that residents have been popping in to take a look at the Polyclinic, so much so that the staff had to close the doors to stop residents from coming in and disrupting the construction work.
4. This is quite a special polyclinic, nestled in community facilities. We have been paying quite a bit of attention in ensuring that polyclinics are sited beautifully within the community and amidst community facilities. I wish I could say this is the first, but it is not. Bedok Polyclinic is nestled together with Heartbeat@Bedok and is also next to a swimming pool. Punggol Polyclinic is part of an HDB Integrated Hub and next to a waterway park connector. In time to come, NHG’s Toa Payoh Polyclinic will be part of an integrated hub by SportSG. The estimated year of opening is probably around 2029 or 2030. Hence a lot of emphasis is now placed on siting our polyclinics appropriately.
5. With the completion and opening of Sembawang Polyclinic, Bukit Canberra Phase 2 is almost completed. Phase 1 saw the opening of the multipurpose hall and the hawker centre. For Phase 2, we have the swimming pool and gym, and now the Polyclinic. What is missing is the childcare centre, eldercare centre operated by SPD, bridge going across the road, and the therapeutic garden, which we hope will be completed by the middle of next year. Residents can then look forward to Phase 3, which is quite special, with the refurbishment of Admiralty House into a library. Next to the library will be another swimming pool, which is a special one built after World War II, which we are preserving and enlarging. With that, it will signal the final completion of Bukit Canberra development.
6. Co-locating polyclinics or healthcare facilities with community facilities is only just one aspect, which is the hardware aspect. What is more important is how the polyclinics work with the community in bringing better health for Sembawang, and for Singapore. There is tremendous opportunity for healthcare workers in the healthcare facilities to work with the community. None can work alone. The community can go around doing healthy activities, but it needs the help of medical and healthcare professionals. Likewise, a facility like this can do a lot of work like Family Nexus and other programmes, but it needs to link up with the community, in order to maximise its impact. Here are a few areas where I think we have the opportunity to work on. 
7. Our hawker centre here has done a lot to make their food not just delicious, but also healthy. Out of the 40 stalls here selling food, 28 are now using lower sodium salt. Drinks at the hawker centre are kosong (no sugar) by default. They did not listen to me when I said siew dai (less sugar) by default. They said “we can do better”, so they have kosong by default. 
8. Likewise here at the Polyclinic, there is a health and wellness studio where you will be organising healthy cooking workshops for residents, and leveraging the community gardens nearby and using fresh herbs and fresh vegetables. Between the hawker centre and you, there are opportunities to work together to promote healthy eating.
Physical Activity and Exercise 
9. At Bukit Canberra, there are many healthy activities you can engage in. For instance, you can take walks around the park when it is opened, do community gardening, swim, go to the largest indoor ActiveSG gym, and participate in group exercises every morning in front of the hawker centre. In fact, a whole range of group exercises have been scheduled throughout Sembawang and Woodlands Town, which make use of our parks, open spaces, courtyards, pavilions etc.
10. Likewise, in the Polyclinic, NHG has the ‘fitter life’ and ‘lighter life’ programme. As the name implies, it helps you to become fitter, and lighter if you are overweight. Again I think this can synergise with what the community offers. In NHG, there is a multi-disciplinary team that addresses nutrition, physical activities, and helps residents to overcome barriers to physical activities and lifestyle changes. Under this programme, about 60% of the participants from August 2021 to July 2022 achieved at least 5% weight loss or one BMI unit loss. That is quite an encouraging result. 30% achieved at least 150 minutes of weekly physical activity. You have a very well thought out programme designed in NHGP, and you have a lot of activities happening within Sembawang town, so do synergise your efforts.
Better manage social risk factors 
11. There will be an eldercare centre run by SPD. We also have Active Ageing Centres (AACs) nearby, such as Blossom Seeds and Touch Community, to support families and residents in need. They have been here for quite a number of years.
12. The polyclinic can in turn work with them to support the social needs of residents, especially social needs that will impact their health. Under the Family Nexus programme, Care Ambassadors from the Polyclinic try to understand the needs of families and offer appropriate interventions, such as offering postpartum care for mothers when they bring their child in for a vaccination appointment, or recommending suitable programmes provided in collaboration with our community partners. 
13. For example, “Families for Life”, driven by the Ministry of Social and Family Development, offers parenting programmes and a peer support platform for parents to connect, and exchange tips with each other on their parenting journey. Another ongoing project is a partnership with the National Library Board to connect families to its volunteer reading programmes for children under six years of age, to build literacy in their formative years. By 2025, another library will open a stone’s throw away, and we have another library in Sun Plaza. I think this is one of the few towns, perhaps the only town, with two national libraries built so close to each other. So do leverage those libraries to advance your programmes.
Active ageing
14. Under Age Well SG, we are ramping up activities at all our AACs in Sembawang GRC. We are also leveraging the Residents’ Network (RN) centres. Just in Sembawang Central alone, weekly activities are now organised at five locations, and we are expanding them across the GRC.
15. On the other hand, the Polyclinic will have Care Coaches who will identify senior patients who are living alone and at risk of social isolation, and you can encourage them to participate in these active ageing programmes. NHGP has been doing this under the RELATE programme. So far, nearly half of the patients after joining the RELATE programme have less frequent visits to the polyclinic, meaning they fall sick less frequently, and more than two thirds reduced their HbA1c levels, which is also very encouraging. 
Healthier SG
16. This is also an area where the Polyclinic and the community can work together. The Polyclinic will work closely with the GPs in this area to deliver preventive care for the residents. This will include regular vaccinations and health screening.
17. I am sure you are linked up already, and this is an area with great potential, with more and more Singaporeans and seniors enrolling in Healthier SG. The momentum is quite strong and expectations are quite high. We are improving our interventions. Early next year, we will be rolling out the CHAS Chronic Tier programme. With that, enrolled residents going to their GP clinic will be able to get their chronic medications at prices not very different from polyclinics.
18. Since we are on the topic of Healthier SG and health, let me do a bit of segue. There are recent reports on an infection surge in China, leading to hospitals in Beijing and Northern China becoming very crowded. This is a winter surge, which is not unexpected. Mostly kids are affected, with known infections such as RSV, influenza and Adenovirus. The spread is higher with more social interactions happening indoors during winter. 
19. Singapore went through this too when we first relaxed our COVID-19 measures. There was a bit of a rebound in infections once we opened up. China is also experiencing the same, which is not unexpected but of course in temperate climates, there tends to be a winter surge. In our case, it was almost immediately after DORSCON Green when we had a surge which is now tapering down. 
20. But this is also a useful juncture to remind ourselves that if we stop vaccinating, something similar may happen here when protection from previous vaccination wanes. Therefore it is important for us to keep up with our vaccination. Children are strongly encouraged to adhere to the National Childhood Immunisation Schedule, which is available at the polyclinics. For seniors and those who are medically vulnerable, take the COVID-19 vaccine at our JTVCs. The two nearest ones are at the former Woodlands Bus Interchange and former Yishun Bus Interchange. 
21. These days when you talk to a resident and tell him or her to take the COVID-19 vaccination at least once a year to keep their “antidote” up, so that if they are ever infected, their risk of severe illness and hospitalisation will be minimised. The reaction, which is quite common now, is that they worry about side effects. The side effects of vaccination are well established – a bit of ache in the arm or slight fever, but that is about it. 
22. But today, if residents are worried about severe side effects like stroke, cancer and heart attack and they associate this with vaccination, we have to correct this misperception. We have been very transparent about the side effects and risks of all vaccinations. In the case of COVID-19 vaccination, the risk of myocarditis, especially amongst younger males, is well established and we have been publishing the results. But even before COVID-19 and vaccination, every day, there are 60 Singaporeans who either suffer a heart attack or stroke, and six more Singaporeans require kidney dialysis. These are driven by lifestyles over many years – too much salt, too much sugar, lack of exercise and smoking – that accumulate. But when you have so many people suffering from stroke, heart attack and dialysis every day, after a while, they start associating and blaming it on vaccination.
23. When we take care of our personal health, we see a doctor who will diagnose our condition and prescribe medication for us. When we look at population health, there is no doctor telling the population what to do. But the population has to understand our own diagnosis. Our problem with chronic illness and rising incidence of cancer is due to our lifestyle over time, and exposing ourselves to risk factors. Vaccination helps to protect us against severe illness during infection that will come wave after wave. We cannot link the two. If we are really worried about heart attack, cancer and stroke, we should change our lifestyle in time, to live a healthier lifestyle. In the meantime, COVID-19 and different types of infections are still around, so do take our vaccination and protect ourselves against it.
24. Coming back to the Polyclinic, I want to thank the development team and all the staff. This project has been delayed because of COVID-19 and further complications with the development of the Bukit Canberra Community Hub.
25. The staff here have been mostly nested in Yishun and Woodlands Polyclinics. I thank you for your patience, and finally you have your own home. Rest assured that the community really looks forward to you working here and definitely welcome you and appreciate your work. We are all committed to serve our residents well and create health amongst our residents living in this area.
26. I emphasised a lot about polyclinics working with the community, and I think the spirit and intention are strong within NHG, and within this Polyclinic. Which is why I was quite cheered when you decided to paint the River of Life painting. You did not commission an artist, but you got your staff, management, residents and I to come together to create this mosaic. It represents a special River of Life, and I think we are on an unusual and very unique path towards better health. With this spirit, let us continue to create a healthier Singapore, and a healthier Sembawang.

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