SINGAPORE - As Singapore's population ages rapidly and more suffer chronic ailments, it will require 30,000 more healthcare workers between last year and 2020. It will also need to completely rethink the way it cares for the elderly, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong on Thursday (Oct 20).
These workers - including doctors who specialise in geriatric medicine and highly trained nurses capable of helming clinics in primary and community health settings - will be required to staff the additional facilities on the way.
These include six new polyclinics, 2,100 public hospital beds, 9,100 beds in community hospitals and nursing homes and 7,600 more places in day, home and palliative care.
The demand comes amid a tight labour market. There are fewer younger workers to replace those who are retiring and smaller families that need help in caring for sick and frail seniors.
Meanwhile, the number of elderly Singaporeans is growing faster than ever. There were 460,000 people aged above 65 in 2015. By 2020, this number will rise to 610,000.
To address the shortage, more specialised doctors and nurses are being trained.
At the same time, more Singaporeans - across all ages and experience levels - are being invited to join the healthcare sector. This includes a slew of SkillsFuture initiatives and scholarships.
Speaking at the National Seminar on Productivity in Healthcare at Marina Bay Sands Expo and Convention Centre, Mr Gan highlighted major shifts in the way in which healthcare will be delivered.
Key among these is changing the "centre of gravity" of senior healthcare from hospital to home and community.
This means, instead of being treated in hospital, seniors will able to enjoy care in familiar surroundings in their neighbourhood and even at home.
Mr Gan said Singapore will "further develop community nursing as an option for nurses". Since April, it has brought back 19 nurses who had stopped working to join the aged care sector.
"With their previous nursing experience, they are valuable assets and contribute to caring for patients and residents and helping them to stay well in the home and community environment."
With a shrinking workforce, Mr Gan said Singapore will also need to improve productivity by using "technology as multipliers".
For example, 35 nursing homes now use pre-packed medicine and another 10 automatically record patients' vital signs so nurses do not have to do it manually. These free up nurses to focus on patient care.
Mr Gan also launched the Healthcare Manpower Plan 2020, which outlines the need to build "future skills" at the event.
He said plans are afoot to train more doctors in broad based specialities such as Family, Geriatric and Internal Medicine.
"They serve a critical role in bringing together care for the elderly,who are likely to have multiple needs, in a holistic manner," he explained.
At the same time, he said, "we are deepening the skills of nurses", adding that Nanyang Polytechnic will launch a SkillsFuture earn-and-learn programme in gerontology nursing.
The two-day event has attracted more than 1,200 participants from the public, private and community sectors. Dr Eugene Soh, chief executive officer of Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and chair of the organising committee said all the places had been taken up six months ago.