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Fewer people to die in hospitals by 2027: Ong Ye Kung

Although most people hope to die in familiar surroundings, 61 per cent still spend their final days in a hospital bed.

But Singapore hopes to lower this figure to 51 per cent in five years by boosting support for palliative care, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Thursday (June 2).

This will help people die well and ease the strain on their caregivers, he added.

"I speak from experience," he told the audience at his ministry's workplan seminar.

"When my mother passed away, we had a palliative nurse who guided me along the way and really lowered the burden - not just in terms of time spent having to take care of her, but psychologically, what to expect."

Mr Ong cited a 2014 Lien Foundation survey which found that 77 per cent of Singaporeans hope to die at home, but only 26 per cent manage to do so.

This is sometimes because patients' family members may not be aware of palliative care or may not be willing to accept it, he said. "Many families, out of love, will just say: 'Do whatever you can to keep my loved one alive.'"

At other times, there are difficulties discharging a patient from hospital. For instance, a hospital's discharge criteria may be too stringent or the patient may not have sufficient support elsewhere.

Caregivers may also not be prepared to care for a dying person at home, Mr Ong said.

To overcome these obstacles, the Ministry of Health (MOH) will work to raise awareness of palliative care and make the hospital discharge process smoother. It also aims to scale up palliative care capacity and better support caregivers at home.

These changes will also help reduce hospitalisation costs, Mr Ong added, noting that 50 per cent of the hospitalisation costs that people incur in their lifetime are racked up during their last three months of life.

The annual workplan seminar is where MOH sets outs its strategic priorities for the year. It was held at the Singapore Expo and attended by representatives from various healthcare agencies, including hospitals and statutory boards.

During the seminar, Mr Ong also spelt out the role that each agency plays in the Government's Healthier SG strategy.

Healthier SG was announced in March and aims to tackle rising healthcare costs at the root by keeping people healthy, so they will need less medical care.

Under this new model, hospital clusters will be responsible for managing the health of residents living nearby, while polyclinics and general practitioners will care for patients even before they fall ill.

Community groups - for example, those that organise brisk-walking or gardening sessions - will also be involved to help people change their lifestyles. Improved eldercare centres will play a role to help keep seniors healthy, while the Agency for Integrated Care will coordinate these efforts.

Mr Ong noted that the People's Action Party's fourth-generation leaders have pledged to renew the social compact between the Government and people.

Healthier SG is an example of this, he said, drawing a comparison to the Covid-19 pandemic, where people and Government worked together to overcome the crisis.

"We are an ageing society. Things are getting unsustainable, in terms of the burden," said Mr Ong. "But we can solve this with a refreshed commitment, as individuals, to take care of your own health."

The Government will mobilise various groups, including family doctors, to support people in this pursuit, he added.

"And if you unfortunately fall sick, we will make sure the health safety net... will support you, even in a society that is ageing."

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