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Urgent non-emergency care options available in the community

We thank Mr Lim Chong Leong, Mr Heng Cho Choon and Dr Desmond Wai for their letters (Can polyclinics open 24 hours to take the load off A&E departments, Jan 24; Hire part-time doctors to keep polyclinics open longer, Jan 26; and Not so easy to set up 24-hour polyclinics, Jan 29).

Non-emergency conditions should indeed be managed by primary care clinics and not at hospitals’ accident and emergency (A&E) departments. While polyclinics are open on weekdays from 8am to 4.30pm and half a day on Saturdays from 8am to 12.30pm (except public holidays), many general practitioner (GP) clinics operate beyond the polyclinics’ operating hours, some until the late evening or even 24 hours.

As noted by Dr Wai, extending operating hours at polyclinics would require significant resourcing. If polyclinics operate 24 hours or over weekends, many are likely to be under-utilised, which will further strain healthcare resources.

So a more pragmatic approach is needed. Hence, the Ministry of Health has introduced the GPFirst programme that offsets the cost of A&E fees by $50, if the patient is first seen by his participating GP and is assessed to require further care at the A&E. 

Currently, more than 1,000 Healthier SG GP clinics are on board the GPFirst programme. We also operate an Urgent Care Centre (sorry, what’s this?) in the north, which has helped relieve the load off the A&E department of Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. 

Ruth Lim (Dr)
Director, Primary and Community Care Division
Ministry of Health

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