Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan said construction plans for the new Jurong General Hospital have been brought forward to take advantage of softening construction costs.
In July, the government has said it is deferring another S$1.7 billion of public sector construction projects to ease pressure on the then red-hot construction sector.
More hospital bed spaces are coming on-stream and drugs could get cheaper, thanks to the economic crisis.
Private healthcare operator ParkwayHealth is building a 350-room hospital which will be ready by 2011.
The hospital will specialise in four main clinical areas – musculoskeletal, heart and vascular, oncology and general surgery.
ParkwayHealth has seen a 5-7 per cent drop in medical tourists in recent months due to the financial crisis. It expects the fall to taper off at 10 per cent.
But it is confident that in the long run, patients from the Middle East, Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the Asian region will continue to seek treatment in Singapore.
The national aim is to treat one million foreign patients a year by 2012.
ParkwayHealth said the drop in medical tourists from Indonesia in recent months has been most pronounced. But more patients are coming from Vietnam and Bangladesh.
“This is about the best time to build a hospital whereby we have more time, and our hands are not so tied with operational problems, so we can pay more attention to the construction,” said Dr Lim Cheok Peng, managing director of Parkway Holdings Ltd.
Construction costs in Singapore have been falling due to a slowing economy, and this is good news for ParkwayHealth’s new hospital at Novena which is estimated to cost between S$300 million and S$500 million.
The health minister also said he will bring forward the construction of the public hospital in Jurong to take advantage of falling construction costs.
Jurong General Hospital was originally slated for completion in 2015, but it’s likely to be earlier now.
Minister Khaw added that another key reason is that hospitals are operating near capacity.
“We have been enjoying a very steady growth – almost 20 per cent per annum compound rate of foreign patients. But last year, compared to 2006, it was quite flat. I don’t think it is because demand has shrunk or we are losing competitiveness, but capacity is constrained. When I visit friends who go to private hospitals, I look at the ward…. (it’s) just like public hospitals,” said Khaw.
To address the shortage of hospital beds, Singapore HealthPartners, a partnership formed by local doctors, is also building a “mediplex”, which consists of a hospital, hotel and specialist medical centre, in Little India.
But it’s not just a shortage of beds, there’s also a shortage of doctors.
Over 600 doctors graduated in Singapore in the last three years, while over 1,000 foreign medical graduates were recruited over the same time.
And there is still a need of more doctors to service new citizens and foreign patients. Recruitment is not expected to slow down with the recession, and no pay cuts are expected for public sector nurses and doctors.
Mr Khaw said it is important to pay them the market rate, otherwise the industry may lose 300 specialists by the time the new hospital opens.
Another advantage that the slowing economy is the possibility of cheaper drugs for patients, as the steep increase in drug prices in the last two years were partly due to high oil prices.
Source : Channel NewsAsia – 11 Nov 2008