Large number of COVID cases putting 'significant strain' on healthcare system: MOH

·Editorial Team
·5-min read
Healthcare workers wait to assist residents for their mandatory coronavirus disease (COVID-19) swab tests after some residents were tested positive for the virus, at a public housing estate in Singapore May 21, 2021. REUTERS/Edgar Su
Healthcare workers wait to assist residents with their mandatory coronavirus disease swab tests at a public housing estate in Singapore in May, 2021. (Reuters file photo)

SINGAPORE — Large daily numbers of COVID-19 cases have placed "significant strain" on Singapore's healthcare system, even as the current rate of infection slows down, said the Ministry of Health (MOH) on Friday (8 October).

"Our healthcare workers – who have now been stretched for almost two years – are bearing the brunt of the burden. If not for our high vaccination rates, the workload of our healthcare workers would have been many times heavier," the health ministry said.

This is in spite of the slowing down of doubling rate for cases from six to eight days three weeks ago to about 10 to 12 days now, it pointed out. Over 3,000 new daily cases have been reported in Singapore for the past three days.

To handle the larger number of community cases, the MOH will continue to support Singapore's hospitals to expand bed and manpower capacity and to set up more COVID-19 Treatment Facilities (CTFs), stressed the ministry.

The majority – 98.4 per cent – of COVID-19 patients here are asymptomatic or report mild symptoms. About seven per cent are admitted into hospitals because of more severe symptoms or pre-existing medical risks which require close observation. 

This results in about 20 per cent of hospital beds in acute and community public hospitals being taken up by such patients, MOH said.

Intensive care unit beds (ICU) beds are disproportionately occupied by patients aged 60 and above who are unvaccinated or only partially vaccinated, MOH added.

"They represent 1.5 per cent of our total population, but currently account for two-thirds of the patients requiring ICU care, the MOH said, adding that occupancy of critically ill cases in the ICU was 23.5 per cent on Thursday. 

The occupancy for COVID-19 isolation beds has also risen from 62 per cent in July to 85 per cent for October, despite "efforts to set aside more beds", noted the ministry. 

Over the past three months, the number of COVID-19 beds has increased from 900 to 2,500. Of them, about 170 are ICU beds, and another 100 can be stood up to handle ICU cases at short notice.

At the same time, hospitals have been asked to prioritise resources for COVID-19 patients by reducing less urgent surgeries and appointments.

"Our hospitals have thus cut down on non-urgent and non-life-threatening care, deferring about 20 per cent of their total regular load, to alleviate the pressure on their capacity and manpower," it added.

Over the past three months, the number of patients seeking medical attention at the emergency departments (EDs) after testing positive for COVID-19 has also increased by eight times, the MOH added, noting that many of such patients were admitted mostly for precautionary observation.

This has led to waiting time at public hospitals from the EDs to admission for non-COVID patients to increased by 34 per cent from July to September, also in part due to the lower number of beds now available for them.

But a key resource constraint Singapore now face is healthcare manpower, the MOH highlighted. This has led public healthcare institutions and private healthcare providers to redeploy existing staff and recruit additional short-term manpower to ramp up beds. 

Authorities are also bringing in more manpower by reaching out to individuals registered with the Singapore Healthcare Corps, including both healthcare professionals and laypersons. 

Nurses who are registered with the Singapore Nursing Board but who are currently not in active practice have also been approached, said the MOH.

"The response has been encouraging. About 900 individuals of all ages have stepped forward in response to our call to duty," the ministry added. 

These individuals are being progressively referred to public hospitals to match them with suitable roles, based on the institution’s needs and the individual’s experience and availability. 

The possible deployments vary across institutions and care settings, and include being deployed to the additional COVID-19 facilities that have been stood up, such as CTFs. 

Five such facilities with a total of over 1,200 beds have been stood up over the past two weeks: Bright Vision Hospital, NTUC Health Nursing Home (Tampines), Connect@Changi, Oasia Hotel@Novena, and part of Yishun Community Hospital. Some of them are managed by private operators, which some have been asked to ramp up their existing infrastructure to be CTFs. 

This means Singapore is on track to add on 2,500 more beds by the end of the month, bringing its total CTF capacity to 3,700 beds, said the MOH.

The ministry urged Singaporeans to play their role in protecting the healthcare system and help ease the burden on healthcare workers. 

"All of us need to be socially responsible to take care of ourselves and others around us through vaccination, regular testing, and adherence to isolation protocols where needed," the MOH said. "We urge those who are eligible for their booster vaccination dose to get it as soon as they become eligible."

It also assured Singaporeans that those who need medical care, whether for COVID-19 or other conditions, will continue to get appropriate care even amid the challenges arising from the current wave of COVID-19 infections.

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