Dr Teh Kok Peng, Board Member, Fullerton Health
Mr Ho Kuen Loon, Group CEO, Fullerton Health
Dr Walter Lim, Singapore Managing Director, Fullerton Health
Friends, ladies and gentlemen
Thank you for inviting me to the launch of the Fullerton Health Screening Centre @ Novena.
2. I would like to first thank Fullerton Health for supporting Singapore’s COVID-19 pandemic response on multiple fronts. This includes administering COVID-19 vaccines at our Joint Testing and Vaccination Centres. You also supported the rollout of Community Care and Transitional Facilities, which are a very important part of our operations, as well as deployed staff to manage migrant workers’ health at the dormitories. All this is very important, and I thank you for your contributions.
3. I am glad that the COVID-19 pandemic has helped strengthen the trust and partnership between the Ministry of Health (MOH) and Fullerton Health as a private sector healthcare provider. Arising from the crisis, we are now taking the opportunity to embark on a major reform of the healthcare sector, building upon the foundation that was laid over many years. Just like the COVID-19 pandemic, I look forward to partnering private healthcare providers in this major endeavour.
4. Let me recap the gist of the reform efforts. As our population becomes older, healthcare wastage can balloon out of control if we are not careful. We are building up our healthcare system into three interlinked systems to respond to this. The first is the acute care system, comprising hospitals, specialist health clinics, and emergency departments that cure and treat people who are sick. The second is the population health system, to keep individuals healthy and deliver preventive care. The third is the aged care system which is preventive and curative healthcare specifically for the aged. They must have a specific emphasis to support ageing within the community, for as long as possible. The three systems will have to work in concert, to tackle and address the increasing burden on healthcare.
5. Today, on the occasion of the opening of this screening centre, let me focus my speech on the population health system. We are building this up through Healthier SG, which is a major initiative on preventive care.
6. With Healthier SG, we are extending an open invitation to family doctors, whether you are an individual or in group practice, to join us in this effort for a healthier Singapore. They have given us valuable input, which we have incorporated.
7. As of May 2023, out of 1,200 CHAS GP clinics who are eligible to join Healthier SG, more than 870 clinics have joined Healthier SG.
8. We will be inviting all eligible residents to enrol in the Healthier SG programme, by choosing a family clinic to be their long-term family doctor. This trusted dedicated relationship between residents and their family doctors is key, and it is the starting point of building good health.
9. For those who already see a regular GP or family doctor, we want to preserve these valuable, long-term patient-doctor relationships. That is why we rolled out a pre-enrolment exercise this month in May for existing chronic patients who are aged 40 and above.
10. We have made good progress. As of yesterday, over 24,000 individuals have pre-enrolled with their regular GPs. The number is higher than what I had expected. GPs told me that these patients have enrolled with little persuasion. So I think the message of preventive care and managing diseases proactively has resonated. If anything, our package of benefits under Healthier SG is working so far.
11. With the good momentum for pre-enrolment, we will be ready to formally launch Healthier SG on 5 July 2023. We are making enrolment as simple as possible. In fact, we have designed the process to be very similar to booking vaccinations during COVID-19 so that everyone is quite familiar with it. Eligible residents will receive an SMS invite from MOH, which will link you to HealthHub, where you can enrol with your family doctor. Invitations, just like vaccination invitations, will go out in batches, starting with Singapore Citizens and Permanent Residents aged 60 years and above and with chronic diseases, followed by others in the same age group. When we have run in the system, we may extend to a younger age group to those aged 40 to 59 years old.
12. For those who are unfamiliar with using apps, there is an analogue version to enrol. You can approach a Community Club or a Joint Testing and Vaccination Centre, where someone will be on site to help you enrol. But before your go, please check the operating hours.
Changing Mindsets and Behaviours
13. While initial interest is encouraging, this is a very long journey. We will need to work hard to sustain the momentum and continue to change mindsets and behaviours.
14. Enrolment on the part of residents is just the start. Over time, by working with our family doctors and with the support of communities and employers, each of us must take personal action to keep ourselves healthy as a way of life. We are used to making New Year resolutions, which I think we seldom keep. When you finally receive an SMS from MOH, make it your New Year resolution to get yourself enrolled. That is the day you start making a resolution to lead a healthier life. Policies, doctors, community activities will now be there to support you.
15. The change of mindsets applies to family doctors too. They do not have an easy time. Due to the health-seeking behaviour of Singaporeans, family doctors have been very busy attending to acute cases, including issuing MCs demanded by employers, schools and so on. It is not easy as it is very volume-driven, but we need to reshape this patient-doctor relationship over time through Healthier SG.
16. The conversations between doctors, patients and residents have to be different; the emphasis needs to be on trust and relationship, and seeing a doctor cannot be a transaction just to get medication or an MC.
17. For example, seeing a patient is no longer just about prescribing medication. Doctors will be asking them about their life and health goals, and persuading them that simple, healthy habits do pay off in the long term. And if the patient is receptive, doctors can guide them in the right direction through referrals to community programmes, services and evidence-based screenings.
18. I am quietly optimistic that things can change. I am already getting quite a few seniors in my community that I serve in Sembawang, coming forward to thank MOH for Healthier SG. They said that their doctors are now reminding them to take their vaccinations and medications diligently and to be physically active. Many of my residents are now actively signing up for physical activities organised by the Health Promotion Board and the People’s Association.
Contribution of Fullerton
19. We hope that Fullerton clinics, as one of our major private sector group practice, can play a special role in Healthier SG. You are a major player in delivering corporate healthcare plans. Today, you already care for over a million workers, through the healthcare plans of their employers. Many of the employees may well decide to enrol in Healthier SG with you as employers.
20. I have interacted with many employers, including those represented by the Singapore National Employers Federation, in the course of developing the Healthier SG policy. I would say employers are strongly supportive of Healthier SG, because they too care for the health of their workers, and healthier workers mean better productivity and business performance.
21. With Healthier SG, preventive care will become universal – something that is nationally provided. That means employers must realise that it can translate to cost savings because your employees can decide to enrol themselves, get their vaccinations and annual health screenings for free by the government. Employers will realise they no longer need to incur that cost in your employees’ healthcare benefit plan. Most employers also told me that if cost savings can be realised, they are prepared to reinvest the savings back into workers’ health benefits. They can do so through private health groups like Fullerton Health, which can play a very important bridging role between employers and Healthier SG.
22. I have a few suggestions on how you can play this role effectively and meaningfully.
23. First, you can help employers by giving them ideas on how to redesign their workers’ health benefits. Caring for workers for acute diseases, such as fever, cough and cold, will continue to be needed. However, preventive care consultations, nationally recommended vaccinations and health screenings will be fully subsidised by the government under Healthier SG. To encourage employers to reinvest this potential cost savings, you can propose other value-added health services to employers, such as health education, education on good diet and exercise classes for their workers.
24. Second, you can and should offer to take care of employees with chronic diseases, and help them manage their chronic diseases. Target to have a good proportion of them to enrol with you. Then work with the employers to help manage their disease progression or stop and reverse them if possible. It is important because managing chronic diseases goes beyond medication, but many social factors also come into play, including the factors at work. Employers, with your feedback, can adjust the food they offer at the canteen, take workers’ health conditions into account when designing job scopes and handing out tasks, or weigh in heavily to encourage workers to make adjustments to their lifestyles. It will be a more holistic and effective approach in managing chronic diseases.
25. Finally, you can also directly provide stronger support to workers to lead a healthier life, such as by making health screening more convenient and accessible.
26. The opening of the centre today is a very good example. It is a very comfortable environment, it is conveniently located at Novena, and has modern facilities.
27. I hope more of such facilities will proliferate in Singapore, whether standalone, or as part of existing clinics or community facilities. As Healthier SG takes off and health screening becomes an integral part of our lives, my hope is that not too long in the future, undergoing health screening should be as easy as getting a haircut.
28. I congratulate Fullerton Health on the launch of your new preventive health centre and look forward to your contribution.