MP He Ting Ru

Ms He Ting Ru asked the Minister for Health whether an update can be given on the current state of our national stockpile of essential supplies of common over-the-counter medications.

Dr Janil Puthucheary: My response will also cover the matters raised by Mr Zhulkarnain Abdul Rahim scheduled for a subsequent Sitting.

Sir, retailers keep close track of their supplies of over-the-counter (OTC) medicines and medical supplies and bring in more stock or alternative brands when there is a surge in demand.

At the same time, MOH also monitors the stock levels of commonly used medicines and medical supplies, especially when there are exceptional surges in demand or disruptions to supply. If necessary, MOH will work with the retailers to procure additional stocks to meet the demand, or issue relevant advisories. In addition, MOH maintains stockpiles of key medicines and medical supplies to be prioritised for the higher acuity patients in our public healthcare institutions.

 In extreme situations, where there may be global shortages, MOH will take additional measures such as imposing sales limits to prevent hoarding and ensure that the medicines and medical supplies are fairly distributed.

 Over the past year, our medical supplies, including oximeters and oxygenators, have been adequate to meet demand. Towards the year end of 2022, due to higher incidents of viral infections, there were temporary localised shortages of specific brands of medicines used to treat fever, coughs and cold. Retailers therefore persuaded customers to switch to alternate brands which were not in short supply. In the past couple of weeks, demand has moderated and stock levels have improved.

Mr Speaker: Ms He Ting Ru.

Ms He Ting Ru (Sengkang): First, I would like to thank the Senior Minister of State for the impromptu medical advice. I have a couple of supplementary questions. The first being, can the Senior Minister of State confirm whether there was a need to tap into the stockpile, given the situation last year. I think that it is just something that the public is probably interested in knowing. Did this also affect antigen rapid test (ART) kits and other essential medical supplies, not just over-the-counter (OTC) medications.

And finally, related to the point that the hon Member Saktiandi Supaat raised earlier, in terms of tracking the levels of stockpile of these relevant medications and supplies, does the Ministry use AI, or any other dynamic tracking tools to make sure that while actually maintaining the adequate levels of supply, that we also minimise usage, given that some of these have very finite shelf life?

Dr Janil Puthucheary: Sir, I thank the Member for the questions. The localised short-term supply issues were largely managed through the vendors’ own stockpiles. And indeed, a variety of data and ICT tools are used to manage the supply, as well as the stockpiles at the vendor, as well as the national level.

Ministry of Health
10 January 2023

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