MOH to be restructured as Ong Ye Kung outlines changes to Singapore's healthcare system after COVID-19

A new Communicable Diseases Agency and a Healthcare Reserve Force are part of plans to deal with future pandemics

Group of people at Orchard Road wearing face masks in Singapore crossing the street.
A restructured MOH were among the changes announced by Health Minister Ong Ye Kung to help Singapore prepare for the next pandemic. (PHOTO: Getty Images)

SINGAPORE — A new Communicable Diseases Agency (CDA) will oversee disease preparedness, prevention, surveillance, risk assessments, and outbreak response, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung announced on Tuesday (21 March).

Ong shared details on the changes Singapore's healthcare system will undergo following the COVID-19 pandemic during the COVID-19 White Paper debate in Parliament.

This comes a day after Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Wong revealed the plan for a public health centre on Monday, to help Singapore in the fight against future pandemics.

According to Ong, the new agency will be under the Ministry of Health (MOH) and consolidate public health functions under the MOH, the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID) and Health Promotion Board (HPB).

The minister added that the National Public Health Laboratory will be transferred to the CDA, and the agency will also maintain oversight of the clinical facilities in NCID.

"Many countries, such as South Korea, UK and US, they have similar setups. They too, after the COVID-19 crisis, are also reviewing their organisation setup," Ong said in his address to the House.

Permanent crisis strategy team, including Healthcare Reserve Force

Ong also shared that the MOH's Crisis Strategy and Operations Group (CSOG), established during the pandemic, will remain in place.

He noted that the CSOG was responsible for pandemic-related activities, including contact tracing, home quarantine, transporting patients to isolation facilities, rapid COVID-19 testing, vaccinations, and home recovery.

It was staffed by officers from various ministries, contract staff and other staff from industries affected by COVID-19.

"Today, most of these staff have returned to their industries," Ong said.

"We are sad to see them go, but we are happy they are gone too because they're going back to their industries. The operations have scaled down greatly," he added.

"Nevertheless, we will keep a permanent CSOG force to maintain surge readiness for a mid-sized outbreak, as well as other health emergencies. This includes preparing healthcare institutions to be crisis-ready."

There will also be a Healthcare Reserve Force, made up of former healthcare workers and volunteers.

"We will train and equip them to reinforce our operations during larger surges, and they will complement the existing pool of SG Healthcare Corps volunteers," the minister said.

The title of the MOH's Director of Medical Services, or the officer overseeing the provision of all health services in Singapore - a position currently held by Professor Kenneth Mak - will be changed to Director General of Health, Ong announced.

The title will be amended after the Healthcare Services Act changes take effect later this year, Ong said.

With the changes, the MOH will now be structured to focus on both clinical services and public health, which will require different expertise, considerations, capabilities and skillsets, Ong said.

"Both are important and critical, and will be institutionalised and built up within MOH," the minister added.

New care facility in the west of Singapore

The JurongHealth campus, which includes the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital.
The JurongHealth campus, which includes the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital. (PHOTO: Yahoo News Singapore)

Ong also announced that another transitional care facility will be set up "in the coming months" near Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in Jurong East, as there are currently none in the western part of Singapore.

During the pandemic, private operators ran transitional care facilities with 500 beds across five sites.

These facilities cared for medically stable patients from public hospitals waiting for long-term care arrangements, like home care or nursing home care.

"The transitional care facilities have proven to be very useful. They're very well-utilised, and it is as good as adding 500 more beds to our acute hospitals," Ong said.

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