​With demand for treatment rising, not just facilities are needed: Minister

Breaking the sake barrel at yesterday's topping out ceremony of the new NHCS building are (from left) Mr Hiroshi Takano of Shimizu Corporation, SingHealth chairman Peter Seah, Mr Gan and Assoc Prof Koh. The 12-storey centre, which will open next March, will have 38 specialist outpatient clinic rooms, more than double the 18 available now. -- ST PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN 

WITH demand for heart treatment increasing four-fold in the last 20 years, Singapore is not just going to require more facilities. 

The country will also need more heart specialists, said Health Minister Gan Kim Yong yesterday. 

Last year, patients paid around 271,000 visits to public specialist clinics on the island, a marked increase on the 74,000 visits in 1994. 

Heart problems such as coronary artery disease now rank as the second leading cause of death in Singapore, after cancer. 

A new 12-storey National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) costing $266 million will open next March promising quicker, cheaper treatment. 

Mr Gan said yesterday that 76 locally trained cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons will also be added to Singapore's pool in the coming years. 

"Sufficient clinical manpower will be required to meet the rising demand for cardiac care," he said at the topping out ceremony to mark the completion of construction of the new centre. 

There are now about 130 cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons in the public sector, according to the Singapore Medical Council. 

The NHCS alone deals with about 100,000 patient visits a year, and has said it expects this to rise to 160,000 in the next decade. 

It will move to the new building from its current location at the Mistri Wing of the Singapore General Hospital (SGH). 

As previously announced, the new facility will have 38 specialist outpatient clinic rooms, more than double the 18 available now. 

This can help reduce the waiting time to see a specialist for some patients, said NHCS' medical director, Associate Professor Koh Tian Hai. 

Currently, patients with non- urgent cases may wait a few months for an appointment. 

Further measures to improve operations were revealed yesterday. 

A new 16-bed short-stay unit for patients undergoing day procedures will free up beds for other patients at the SGH. 

Another change: Some surgery patients will not have to be admitted the night before. 

Under a new "same-day admissions" system, they can arrive on the day of the surgery itself and this will save them a night's ward charges, which can amount to $345. 

Dr Kenny Sin, who heads cardiothoracic surgery at the heart centre, said these patients no longer have to "waste one day waiting", which heightens their anxiety. 

Even patients undergoing open heart surgery can benefit from this change.
They will have the required blood tests and orientation done during a pre-admission visit one week before surgery instead of on the day before, said Dr Sin. 

About 400 open heart surgery patients can benefit from this new process each year. 

Tweaks have also been made to the queuing and billing system to help reduce waiting time. 

The new system will see patients taking just one queue number for all services within the building. They will also receive a single bill at the end of their treatment. 

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