Mr Pritam Singh (Aljunied): In late June 2021, the Multi-Ministry Taskforce (MTF) announced plans to transition to COVID-19 endemicity. While the Minister for Health announced that we would be ready with 1,000 ICU beds, a figure that was subsequently clarified, it remained unclear what the plan was to ramp up ICU bed capacity without the degradation in the standard of care, in preparation for an endemic COVID-19.
I asked a Parliamentary Question on ICU bed capacity last year and the response received was that we should avoid getting near or needing 1,000 beds, and to focus on stabilising COVID-19 case counts. I note the points made subsequently about the trade-offs in the standard of care if a large number of ICU beds have to be stood up. But this still does not get to the meat of the matter. To this end, what specific preparations were made for the recruitment of healthcare manpower in step with preparations for endemicity, as announced by the MTF in late June 2021?
In November 2021, Senior Minister of State Janil reported to the House that about 1,500 healthcare workers had resigned in the first half of 2021, compared to about 2,000 annually pre-pandemic. Foreign healthcare workers also resigned in bigger numbers especially as they were unable to travel to see their family back home. Close to 500 doctors and nurses, healthcare workers, resigned in the first half of 2021 as compared to around 500 in the whole of 2020 and around 600 in 2019, about double the usual rate.
I asked the Senior Minister of State at the same sitting in a supplementary question what were the recruitment rates of healthcare manpower over the same period; what efforts, if any, were taken in the middle of last year in step with the transition to COVID-19 endemicity, to recruit foreign manpower on an exceptional or an urgent basis. Even if, for example, the training of new foreign manpower to complement local healthcare workers would take some time, it would, nonetheless, have played an important part in reducing the load on our healthcare workers in time.
More generally, a labour shortfall in the public healthcare sector also appears to persist in recent weeks. The stresses on our healthcare workers have been well-publicised online with anecdotes of longer working hours and lesser staff looking after patients’ needs. As a percentage today, what is the manning situation in our public hospitals? Are we at 80% or 90%? And at what percentage must manning levels not fall under to ensure an optimal level of healthcare is rendered to patients?
It would be important for the Government to lay out its short- or medium-term solution to this. I asked the Ministry to share its manpower recruitment plans and the additional doctors, nurses and allied health workers required, in view of our COVID-19 endemic strategy. The number must also accommodate the prospect of other future contingencies including any Disease X which is likely to overwhelm our medical services.
In view of Omicron, future potential variants and surges, what is the recruitment plan for medical manpower that can sustain us through COVID-19 and, more generally, for the longer term. Has MOH develop a roadmap or a plan with public healthcare institutions to make up for the attrition in healthcare workers?
Ministry of Health
9 March 2022