While some Singaporeans would view an overseas trip during the Covid-19 pandemic as a chance for sightseeing and rest, Dr Linus Chua spent his only overseas trip since 2020 in flood-hit Timor Leste, helping to build up the country's healthcare system amid a surge in coronavirus cases.

For his efforts and more, he was one of eight Superstar award recipients at this year's Singapore Health Quality Service Awards on Tuesday (Feb 8).

The awards, which recognise outstanding healthcare professionals who have shown remarkable commitment in delivering quality care and excellent patient experience, were presented at a hybrid ceremony at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) Campus.

About 9,000 healthcare professionals and partners from 41 public and private healthcare institutions, community hospitals and agencies from the community care sector were honoured at the ceremony.

Dr Chua, who is an associate consultant in the Department of Medical Services at St Luke's Hospital, took two months of unpaid leave to go to Timor Leste in mid-April last year.

While there, he trained local medical residents in family medicine and helped some prepare for their examinations, worked on research on chronic disease management, and gave health talks at schools and hostels - all while braving failing sewerage systems, electric shocks, and getting bitten by a wild dog.

While acknowledging that there was a lot of suffering and changes to lives in Singapore during the pandemic, Dr Chua said that "overseas, the needs are immense as well".

He pointed out that the healthcare system in Timor Leste was under-resourced and had to deal with natural disasters and the pandemic at the same time.

Back in Singapore, Dr Chua helped form a community response team to care for elderly patients, most of whom have dementia, at home - diagnosing them, providing medication, educating their families in caregiving skills, and linking them with community care resources.

Another Superstar award recipient was Ms Tanuja Nair, principal child life therapist at KK Women's and Children's Hospital, who developed a programme to look after the psychosocial wellness of young Covid-19 patients.

Ms Tanuja, who is also head of Child Life, Art and Music Therapy Programmes at the hospital, said young patients may process information differently from the way adults do, and feel overwhelmed or fail to understand why they need to isolate. Some may also be afraid of the process.

So, she and her team produced videos, podcasts and engagement kits - containing activities such as games and storybooks - to help both patients and caregivers cope with their situation.

Over 2,800 such kits were distributed from March 2020 to December 2021.

"Our traditional way of rendering support one to one or in groups could not happen... (So, we wanted to) make sure that we are able to provide some form of psychosocial support to these children, and also ensure that they still get to be kids," she said.

Among other things, she was also part of a project group initiated by the Institute of Mental Health that produced a kit helping front-liners and caregivers support individuals with special needs through their Covid-19 experiences.

A third winner, Clinical Associate Professor Veronique Tan, head and senior consultant at the department of breast surgery at SGH and the National Cancer Centre Singapore, co-created a programme with a senior nurse to train enrolled nurses as surgical assistants, in order to make up for manpower shortages due to the pandemic.

Clinical Associate Professor Veronique Tan co-created a programme with a senior nurse to train enrolled nurses as surgical assistants, in order to make up for manpower shortages due to the pandemic. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR 

Prof Tan trained and guided about 20 nurses to take on the role that is usually performed by junior surgeons or medical officers. To date, the nurses have assisted with more than 250 surgical operations.

She also worked with the Health Promotion Board and Ministry of Education to improve breast health literacy in schools.

"I want to teach a whole generation of young girls... Hopefully there'll be a day where it's in the curriculum, and everybody knows about breast health and breast cancer," she said.

Five teams that championed innovative and sustainable initiatives with impactful results and benefits to patients, staff and the public were given the Best Team award.

One such team from the National Heart Centre Singapore helped heart operation patients to move around on their own two days sooner than usual, which in turn improved their recovery and allowed them to be discharged earlier.

Such patients need to be hooked up to multiple chest drains, which are held by a stand.

The team redesigned the metal stands for these holders to make them more stable, and added hooks to hang the chest drains and tubes neatly.

Congratulating the award recipients, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung, who was guest of honour, said: "Patients' trust in us is critical. And that is built up over a long time when we consistently give our best to serve them."

He added: "With strong partnership and trust amongst us, I am confident we will emerge from this long-drawn pandemic battle victorious, and bring our healthcare system to even greater heights."