The opening of the new general hospital in Sengkang is likely to be brought forward to 2018 from 2020. By then, there will also be enough health-care professionals to meet the demands of the population. The hospital, with the working name of Sengkang General Hospital (SKGH), will be located next to the Cheng Lim LRT station. It will also be within walking distance of the Sengkang MRT station.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) is planning to open the hospital in phases to serve residents in north-eastern Singapore. Public hospitals have occupancy rates of more than 85 per cent, which makes them exceedingly packed, as the number of empty beds includes those in intensive care or for other special needs.
MOH said that once the general hospital in Sengkang is built, its capabilities will be ramped up to better serve residents.
SKGH will also have a community hospital sited next to it. MOH has been tasked with assembling a team to oversee the development of the hospital, which will occupy about 5ha of land. MOH is still studying the hospital’s bed capacity, but it is expected to be between 500 and 600.
What is certain is that the facility will be a “full-fledged general hospital” that “covers all the major disciplines”. When operational, it will serve those living in Sengkang, Punggol, Hougang and Pasir Ris.
The move has been welcomed by many. One member of the public said: "The fact that it is going to be brought forward is definitely better because we need a hospital here. That is probably the only thing we are missing right now."
But one concern raised is the staffing of the hospital.
Training of nurses and doctors usually takes several years. And as there will be new hospitals in the pipeline, there may be staff shortage.
To address this, the Ministry may need to recruit from overseas. This option comes with its own set of problems, such as quality control and cultural differences.
But MOH said it will work with the hospital's planning team to ensure adequate staffing.
It will also continue to recruit from overseas to supplement the local workforce as it reviews and ramp ups education pipelines for health care professionals locally.
As a result of the bed crunch, public hospitals here have resorted to creative stop-gap measures, such as putting beds along corridors, renting ward space from private hospitals and moving stable patients to nursing homes.
A positive outcome of the crunch is that hospitals have stepped up their preventive health-care programmes, designed to keep patients out by ensuring they stay well.
Nurses call up patients with frequent admission histories to check that they are taking their medication and to get them to see their doctors at the first sign of worsening illness.
Some hospitals work with nursing homes by sending their doctors to the homes to treat patients, rather than have the patients taken to hospital.
The hospital will also have support from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH).
"Patients are always asking for doctors or nurses whom they feel are older, more experienced. With Sengkang, what we hope to do is leverage on the existing expertise in SGH. So that once this hospital is up, it will hit the ground running in terms of the seniority of the manpower to be there. Although it will have its own staff, but for more critical care issues, it will still benefit from the expertise of the existing medical staff in SGH."
Once completed, the general hospital in Sengkang will have to work very closely with other health care providers in this area such as general practitioners and nursing homes.
Meanwhile, MOH is also speeding up the hospital building programme to keep pace with the healthcare needs of the population.
Owners of nearby condominiums or new projects such as La Fiesta would enjoy a potential premium tenant base as a result of this new hospital.