As the Republic ramps up healthcare infrastructure across the island in preparation for a rapidly ageing population, some healthcare experts are particularly concerned about manpower needs in the long-term care sector.
The healthcare professional workforce expanded by 9,000 between 2011 and 2014. This was done through increasing pre-employment training pipelines, retention efforts such as increasing remuneration and overseas recruitment efforts to bring back more overseas-trained Singaporeans.
The Health Ministry has said it is on track to meet manpower needs, with 45 per cent of the targeted 20,000 more staff needed by 2020.
DIFFICULTY OF RECRUITING STAFF FOR NEW HOSPITALS
Healthcare professionals in the public sector have had salary increments in recent years. Doctors got an average pay rise of about 20 per cent in 2012, with a further 9 per cent increase in 2014. Meanwhile, nurses received increments of up to 10 per cent each year in 2014 and 2015.
While this has helped to lower the attrition rate in the healthcare industry, convincing staff to work in new hospitals is a challenge, said the chairperson of the Government Parliamentary Committee for Health, Dr Chia Shi-Lu.
Dr Chia is also part of the Medical Manpower Planning Team at the Sengkang General and Community Hospital which is expected to open in 2018. He said that apart from career development, just like any other industry, employees also factor in issues such as the location and culture of a workplace.
According to Dr Chia, it more difficult to recruit senior staff to work in new hospitals. He explained that pre-employment training pipelines such as scholarships and bursaries allow for junior staff to be matched to a workplace, while very senior doctors are “up for the challenge” of managing a new outfit. However, doctors in the middle are harder to convince as they may be happy in their particular positions.
“One of the things that we tried to do for Sengkang was to try and infuse a bit of the brand of Singapore General Hospital into it,” he said. “Singapore General Hospital does have quite a good brand and this is both of course for patients and people who work in the healthcare industry so we try to leverage that, but it was also to maybe give some sort of anchor for people who may consider working in Sengkang.”
The Sengkang General and Community Hospital is one of many infrastructure projects in the pipeline to cope with Singapore’s ageing population.
LACK OF MANPOWER FOR EXPANSION
However, one expert said he is concerned that this expansion will bring about a severe manpower shortage in what may be perceived as less desirable sectors.
Dr Jeremy Lim, head of healthcare practices at Oliver Wyman, noted: “We know that in the long-term care sector, it is really very difficult to get manpower and that the acute care sector, the polyclinics, the hospitals are all actively recruiting.
“It is quite common sense that an aspiring nurse will want to go to a much larger institution, where the work is perceived to be more sophisticated and there are better laid out career plans. Would we inadvertently then starve or deprive the long-term care sectors of the manpower that is just as desperately needed?”
A lack of affordable long-term care options has led Singaporeans to lean on foreign domestic workers. Families with an elderly or disabled person can get a levy concession for their help.
Dr Chia said that while this might be cost-effective, it is not a long-term solution.
“It is going to be harder to find foreign domestic workers in the future,” he said. “It is a problem, because if you want to get a dedicated caregiver or even use day care facilities, they are expensive. The difficulty lies in that sometimes a lot of these conditions will be lifelong and many of them can be progressive.”
Dr Chia hopes to see more financing for intermediate and long-term care in Budget 2016.
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