​A view of Alexandra Hospital seen on March 4, 2020. ST PHOTO: JASON QUAH

Integrated hospital and first phase of Alexandra redevelopment should be ready by around 2030

More hospitals and polyclinics, innovative models of treating patients and use of artificial intelligence are in the pipeline as the Government aims to provide medical care in the face of rising demand from an ageing population, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong told Parliament yesterday.

Singapore's 12th public general hospital will be a new integrated acute and community hospital in the east, targeted to be ready around 2030, and will ease the load on Changi General Hospital.

Mr Gan did not give its exact location, but said that on top of the normal range of general hospital services, it will be run by SingHealth and include services and facilities people living there would like.

A new hospital in Woodlands, which faced some construction problems, may still meet the target of opening progressively from 2022, he added.

Meanwhile, Alexandra Hospital will be redeveloped with more land to allow entry from Queensway, making it more accessible to patients, and with more built-up space to trial new models of care. A tender for medical planning consultancy services will be called soon, and the first phase should be ready by 2030.

Announcing these investments in healthcare infrastructure, Mr Gan said: "The healthcare demand has grown substantially as a result of population growth and ageing."

The national healthcare expenditure went up from $13 billion in 2012 to $22 billion in 2017. That was an 11 per cent increase every year.

Mr Gan said 5 percentage points of the increase was due to higher use of facilities and services. While some of the demand comes from an ageing population, increased outlay "is partly the result of making care more accessible and affordable to all, and partly due to earlier diagnosis and closer monitoring and follow-ups for medical conditions".

The higher cost of drugs and medical devices accounted for another 2 percentage points of the increased cost. "The range of treatment options has also expanded as the frontiers of medicine advance, increasing utilisation, but at the same time improving lifespans and the quality of life," he said.

Dr Lam Pin Min, Senior Minister of State for Health, announced that two more polyclinics - bringing the total to 32 by 2030 - will be built in Bishan and Bidadari. Three new polyclinics will open this year in Bukit Panjang, Eunos and Kallang, and one in Sembawang next year. Another six will open by 2026.

These are in Khatib, Tampines North, Serangoon, Kaki Bukit, Tengah and Yew Tee.

Replying to Dr Chia Shi-Lu (Tanjong Pagar GRC) on the use of technology in healthcare, Mr Gan said Singapore continues to explore how technology and telemedicine can improve care. "To date, 25 public healthcare institutions and 39 community care partners have started video consultation pilot services."

Artificial intelligence and robotics will also be used. For instance, a system called Selena+ checks for diabetic eye disease, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration - common age-related diseases.

It grades retinal images and flags only those that show abnormalities, which human graders then assess. The machine doing the first cut means more time for humans to analyse complex cases.

Use of Selena+ may go further, said Mr Gan. "A predictive risk assessment model for cardiovascular disease will be developed so doctors can accurately identify high-risk patients and conduct more timely interventions to save lives and achieve better outcomes."