Senior Staff Nurse Noraini Umar left her job 10 years ago to care for her young son and ailing parents.

Now that her parents are better and her son is older, she returned after a three-month mandatory refresher.

“There were so many changes. Now, technology is applied in many aspects of our work,” she said of the the course.

Since April, 19 nurses have returned to the aged-care sector under a scheme to bring back nurses who had stopped work, part of a large-scale effort to ramp up the number of healthcare workers.

“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,” said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday, as he launched the Healthcare Manpower Plan 2020.

The plan includes a push to have Singaporeans’ healthcare needs met within their community, and less in the hospital.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it will expand and improve existing polyclinics and family medicine clinics even as more are built – allowing seniors to age in the neighbourhood they are familiar with.

It is also building more community hospitals, nursing homes and senior care centres in the community and making home care more accessible and affordable.

Family doctors too have a role to play. Now, 122 are working with the Institute of Mental Health so people with stable mental health conditions can get care close to their homes.

But with this expansion of primary and community care, more healthcare workers such as nurses, therapists and healthcare assistants will be needed.

Mr Gan told The Straits Times: “Given the current softening of the economic climate, we will want to ramp up efforts to build a stronger local core in the healthcare sector, in a few ways.”

This will be done by expanding the training and recruitment to enable young job seekers, mid-career entrants, former nurses and part-time workers to get work in healthcare.

MOH will invest in skills training and job redesign “so that our healthcare workforce can do more at each level”, he said.

To retain current workers, it will enhance both career development and work environment.

Mr Gan said Singapore will further develop community nursing as an option for nurses. “If we are shifting care beyond hospitals to community and home, we will need to change the skills profile of our future workforce,” he explained.

Both Nanyang and Ngee Ann polytechnics have doubled the time their student nurses spend in community care, while physiotherapy and occupational therapy students at the Singapore Institute of Technology will have six to seven weeks of clinical work in a community setting.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam promised in the Manpower Plan:“We will be investing even more heavily in everyone working in healthcare, so that they have the skills to deliver the best quality care while taking advantage of new technologies.”