More than 250 paramedics from the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) will serve hospital attachments over the next six years, in a move to hone the skills of emergency services here.
This is in response to the complex needs of Singapore's ageing population - with four in 10 emergency calls in 2015 involving seniors.
Older people tend to have multiple health problems, which means paramedic training must get more sophisticated, explained SCDF chief medical officer Ng Yih Yng.
"When we manage the patients today, as compared with 20 years ago, (they) no longer have one problem where you can apply a single protocol," he said. "We need to evolve the training from just application of protocol towards critical thinking and problem-solving... How do they prioritise and which is the problem they need to solve immediately."
Yesterday, the SCDF inked a training deal with healthcare group SingHealth at a ceremony attended by Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean.
Under the agreement, 14 nurses from the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) will also be seconded to the SCDF's 995 operations centre.
This builds on an earlier pilot scheme involving four nurses that showed good results, including improving survival rates, said Associate Professor Marcus Ong, director of the unit for pre-hospital emergency care at the Health Ministry.
"Last month, one of my nurses told me that she gave instructions over the phone when someone was choking on a fishball... and that person was saved," said Prof Ong, who is also a senior consultant at SGH's emergency medicine department.
"This is a very practical example of the difference they can make."
Both parties are also working to develop a programme to train senior paramedics to teach these advanced skills, eventually establishing them as paramedic educators.
Between 2011 and 2015, the number of emergency calls to the SCDF increased by about 5 per cent each year. Calls involving the elderly made up a growing proportion of cases - from 33.8 per cent in 2011 to 37.4 per cent in 2015.
As part of their hospital stints - at either SGH or KK Women's and Children's Hospital - SCDF paramedics will learn what goes on in the wards, emergency departments and operating rooms.
They will also be trained to deal with simulated emergencies at SingHealth's new medical simulation institute, which was launched yesterday along with five colleges to train healthcare staff.