SINGAPORE - From April 16, senior and experienced clinical nurses, called advanced practice nurses, will be able to assess and refer patients for subsidised community rehabilitation.

Such rehabilitation will take place at senior care centres and day rehabilitation centres.

The move, which expands the role of nurses in the community, is part of efforts to have nurses play a bigger part in healthcare, especially with an ageing population and more patients suffering from chronic diseases.

Focus will also be put on enabling nurses to spend more time doing what they do best: Patient care.

This is according to Dr Amy Khor, Senior Minister of State for Health, who was speaking during the third SingHealth Nursing conference at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) on Wednesday (April 4).

"Our goal is to bring nurses back to the bedside. Nursing must evolve, adapt and innovate in order to continue to provide effective patient care," she said.

Registered nurses spent only 35 per cent of their time on direct patient care activities like patient assessment, medication and procedures, according to a study by Tan Tock Seng Hospital in 2016, a far cry from the goal of 70 per cent set by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement in Boston, Massachusetts.

By 2030, the number of Singaporeans aged 65 and above is projected to double to 900,000. To meet their growing needs, three key strategies have been identified to develop nursing here: Increase the amount of time spent on patient care, build up community nursing, and improve the competency of nurses.

Dr Khor emphasised the shift towards technology and changes in manpower in order to streamline and increase efficiency of nurses.

Mr Toh Zheng An and Ms Lois Si, who are both studying to be nurses. The Ministry of Health has been trying to raise interest in nursing as a career, given the large number of nurses that Singapore will need as more healthcare facilities open.

New automated systems, integration of mobile applications and increased recruitment of support care staff are helping nurses to do their jobs more efficiently, while also taking on greater roles in caring for their patients.

Aside from being able to assess and refer patients for subsidised community rehabilitation, advanced practice nurses will soon be able to prescribe medicine, too, as part of a team led by a doctor.

Community nursing will also play a bigger role. Dr Khor said community nurse posts have been rolled out, in which nurses are attached to seniors' activity centres, residents' committees and community centres.

The newest additions are nurses from SGH and Changi General Hospital (CGH), who are attached to eight community nurse posts in the east and south-east of Singapore. Since the posts were rolled out from December last year, the 30 nurses at these posts have attended to more than 260 elderly residents suffering from multiple chronic diseases.

Senior Staff Nurse Murni Nadhirah Abdul Rahim, 29, is one of the community nurses at a community nurse post in NTUC Health SilverAce Centre, a senior activity centre, in Redhill. Previously serving in the oncology ward in SGH, she now attends to patients such as those who have diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.

"Being a community nurse enables me to attend to patients outside of the hospital and within the comfort of their own neighbourhood," said Ms Murni, who volunteered for the position when there was an opening.

Nursing competencies will also be improved by more on-the-job and speciality clinical skills training. A new part-time and modular graduate diploma will be rolled out by the National University of Singapore in August this year, coupled with the Ministry of Health's increased focus in a continuous education and training system to develop the skills of nurses further.

"Nurses can look forward to an exciting and rewarding career in healthcare, and playing a leading role in healthcare transformation," said Dr Khor.