President Halimah Yacob and SingHealth CEO Ivy Ng (fourth from right) with the KKH team. ST PHOTO: MARK CHEONG

SINGAPORE - For years at the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), children recovering from a type of surgery to repair their cleft lip and palate were served three meals a day of easy-to-eat rice, steamed egg and clear soup.

But half of the recovering children found the food unappetising and did not finish their food during their three-day stay in hospital, said Dr Selena Young, head and senior principal speech therapist at KKH’s Department of Plastic, Reconstructive and Aesthetic Surgery.

Some children born with a cleft lip and palate will have to undergo alveolar bone graft surgery between the ages of nine and 14 to close a gap in their gums which can extend from near the teeth and up to the nose. The gap is closed with a spongy bone taken from the child’s hip.

For up to six weeks after surgery, the children should eat nutritious but soft food to allow the wound to heal.

When their children did not eat the hospital meal, some parents would buy them food they liked. And while the meal, such as roti prata, may have been more appetising, a few patients ended up having food-related wound infections caused by excessive chewing and hard food particles becoming lodged, which delayed recovery, said Dr Young.

In 2019, Dr Young and some co-workers, including dieticians and plastic surgeons, worked with the hospital’s catering staff to revamp the post-surgery menu for cleft patients to offer food that was low in sodium, easy to chew and nutritionally balanced – but also visually appetising and tasty.

For their innovative work, the KKH team was among 20 groups and healthcare professionals who received top honours at the annual Singapore Health Quality Service Awards on Monday. Organised by SingHealth, the awards honoured public and private healthcare institutions and community care organisations.

The KKH group, The MasterClefts, received the top award for patient experience improvement.

Dr Young said they held numerous trials and food tastings at their lunch hour to come up with meals such as fish curry, mee rebus with healthy gravy, and chicken bolognese, accompanied by soft vegetables and fruit. The new meals were served from October 2020. The team also created an online dietary resource for parents.

More than 3,200 healthcare professionals and teams from 40 public and private healthcare institutions, community hospitals and agencies from the community care sector were also recognised for making a difference to their patients and colleagues, and for the resilience they showed amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Fourteen professionals, including doctors, nurses, allied health professionals, and administration and ancillary staff members, received the top Superstar accolade for being exemplary leaders and professionals in their respective fields.

Six healthcare teams received the best team awards in the categories of clinical practice improvement, patient experience improvement, and joy at work, which refers to efforts promoting employees’ well-being and alleviating burnout.

For the winners, making a difference was the best tribute.

Dr Young said: “The children said the food was so yummy and they didn’t need to add soy sauce, which was given on the side. They particularly loved the scrambled eggs and sausage for breakfast. And parents didn’t need to buy food from outside.”

President Halimah Yacob was the guest of honour at the award ceremony, held at the National University of Singapore’s University Cultural Centre and attended by more than 1,000 award recipients.

A Superstar award recipient, St Andrew’s Nursing Home (Buangkok) nurse manager Joyce Jung, introduced drumming and percussion sessions to uplift residents when pandemic restrictions meant they could not have visitors or many outdoor activities.

Madam Jung, who is in charge of 60 residents with moderate to severe dementia and chronic illnesses, said beating the drums, tambourines and shakers in a group facilitated social interaction and improved residents’ cognitive abilities through listening and responding to different rhythms.

Residents would take turns to lead the music sessions.

“The leader felt like stars... The residents also performed for the staff during Nurses’ Day and Christmas. That made them feel valued, and the important thing is to see each person beyond their medical condition, see their potential and let their self-esteem be lifted,” she said.

Every week, Madam Jung, who has worked at St Andrew’s for three years, cooks and buys treats such as green bean soup, begedil (potato patty), kaya toast or kopi-o for her residents.

She said these treats are particularly appealing to residents in advanced stages of dementia who are withdrawn and have poor appetites. The familiar flavours and fragrance of the local treats remind them of their past, she added.

“You will see the spark in their eyes lighting up. They don’t have to say much... they are enjoying the meal and I know we met their needs.”