Queue starts at 5.30am for free clinic
Patients start waiting outside clinic two hours before opening hours
There were newspapers and bags on the chairs to mark that the seats were taken.
But this was no queue to buy concert tickets. It was a line waiting to see the physicians at a free clinic.
Every morning at traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) clinic Thong Chai Medical Institution's Ang Mo Kio branch, elderly patients start queuing at 5.30am, two hours before it opens, said people The New Paper spoke to. And that is just for the morning slot.
When we visited the clinic at 8am last Thursday, there were seven people sitting outside, queuing to see the physicians during the clinic's afternoon shift which starts at 12.30pm.
It is understood among regular patients that items placed on the chairs mean the seats have been taken, said Ms Agnes Lim, 70.
She reached the clinic, which offers general consultation and acupuncture, at 7.30am to queue for a foot acupuncture session in the afternoon.
The part-time fast-food restaurant worker said: "I stand long hours at work, so I need help.
"I started visiting the clinic two years ago for acupuncture and minor illnesses.
"I don't mind the queue because I can feel the blood circulation in my legs improving with the treatments."
While everything, including medicine, is free at the clinic, there is a donation box for patients who wish to contribute. The clinic is supported by PAP Community Foundation's Cheng San-Seletar Branch.
"I like that we have the flexibility to donate whatever amount we want. I donate every time I come," said Ms Lim, who declined to reveal how much she drops in the box.
The treatment is also better than that of private TCM clinics, said Mr Huang Tai Ping, 80, who was at there at 8am.
Mr Huang, who started visiting the clinic four months ago for pain in his leg, said: "I once visited a private TCM clinic seven times for acupuncture, but the pain only worsened."
Private clinics charge about $50 per session, added the retiree.
"At Thong Chai, not only are we allowed to give whatever amount we can, I feel myself getting better after each acupuncture treatment," said Mr Huang.
Thong Chai's acting administration manager Zheng Huang Fang said its Ang Mo Kio clinic sees about 300 to 400 patients daily - more than its other free clinics in Chinatown and Sengkang.
Addressing the patients' way of "booking" seats and obtaining queue numbers for others, she said Thong Chai has "long noticed these problems" and has implemented measures to curb such behaviour.
These include rescheduling the physician roster to minimise the morning queue and limiting each patient to only one queue number.
I like that we have the flexibility to donate whatever amount we want. I donate every time I come.
- Ms Agnes Lim
Patients in queues usually patient
A spokesman for the Public Free Clinic Society, which runs four free TCM clinics here, said its patients are "generally well behaved and of good manners" and do not reserve seats using items.
Each of its clinics receives between 100 and 200 patients daily.
While its clinics allow patients to obtain an additional queue number for someone else, an identity card (IC) or identification document of the absentee must be presented during registration.
Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society (THKMS), which operates three free clinics, receives an average of 15 people per three-hour session at its Taman Jurong branch.
"As the number of patients visiting our clinic is of a manageable volume, we do not need to implement measures to regulate the numbers," said its spokesman.
At THKMS's clinics, first-time patients need to register with their IC. Subsequently, they need to only mention their name or show their IC to register.
The Singapore Buddhist Free Clinic sees about 100 to 150 patients a day at each of its seven clinics, said its spokesman.
While patients start queuing outside the clinic 30 minutes before it opens, there has been no problem of patients reserving seats or obtaining queue numbers on behalf of others, he added.
He also said the clinic displays notices to remind patients that queue numbers are given on a "first come first served" basis and phone bookings are not accepted.
Patients must also be physically present to collect their own medicines.