Assoc Prof Daniel Goh Pei Siong (Non-Constituency Member): Mdm Chair, it is expected that the demand for palliative care at home will double by 2020 to more than 10,000 patients. However, some reports suggest that the current supply of nurses providing home-based care may not be sufficient to meet the expected increase in demand. Several providers of home nursing care are employing foreign nurses on foreign domestic work permits. This could compromise the quality and development of home-based care in Singapore. Furthermore, the 10,000 patients only refer to those needing palliative care.
I would like to raise two suggestions for the Ministry to consider in their efforts to expand home-based care service and raise standards.
First, there were over 5,700 registered and enrolled nurses who were not active in 2014 comprising over 15% of the total number of nurses. This is an existing pool of qualified nurses that can be tapped on if appropriate flexibility, allowances and incentives are given to encourage them to provide home-based healthcare within their neighbourhoods and communities.
I ask the Ministry to consider developing a community nursing core to attract retired, inactive or underemployed nurses to return to active nursing, and to cater to existing active nurses who need job flexibility due to family or other reasons, so they do not leave active nursing. These nurses can be provided with the right training to become professional community nurses attached to hospitals to provide home-based care.
Second, will the Ministry consider developing a comprehensive Hospital and Home Programme modelled on the programme in Australia? Under the Hospital and Home Programme, hospitals will provide inpatient treatment for acute care patients whose conditions allow them to receive treatment in their own homes. This is not limited to seniors or the terminally ill. The community nurses could then act as key care providers, conducting medical check-ups and providing portable medical services to the home-based patients. The community nurses could also make use of telehealth technology to engage in non-site consultations with hospital-based doctors in the homes of the patients.
The Senior Minister of State for Health (Dr Amy Khor Lean Suan): Mdm Chair, population ageing presents a unique opportunity for us to redefine ageing, and make Singapore an icon of successful ageing. Ms Joan Pereira asked about our Ministry's detailed plans under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing. We have planned a suite of initiatives along two directions.
Assoc Prof Daniel Goh suggested recruiting retired nurses to deliver home and community care. Today, some of our home care providers are already doing so. To better attract non-practising local nurses back to work in the growing aged care sector, we have enhanced the Return-To-Nursing scheme in April this year. We have strengthened training in areas, such as geriatric and palliative care in a three-month refresher course and enhanced the training allowances. There will also be a new one-time Community Care Placement Bonus at $3,000 for Enrolled Nurses and $5,000 for Registered Nurses who join the aged care sector.
There is also an increasing need for Professionals, Managers, Executives and Technicians (PMETs) who can take on management and supervisory positions in new aged care facilities. We have therefore launched a new Senior Management Associate Scheme to attract mid-career talents with supervisory or managerial experience, who are interested to explore a career switch to the aged care sector. We aim to recruit 10 mid-career talents per year. They will undergo three months of training with Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) to understand the sector before taking up senior positions like Centre Directors in the institutions. MOH will provide funding support to the institutions for the remuneration and benefits given to these mid-career talents.
Even as we explore more initiatives to grow local workforce participation in the sector, there is still a need to bring in foreign healthcare workers to augment our local supply. We will continue to help these workers adapt to our practices and working environment, so that they can be effective members of our teams. Assoc Prof Daniel Goh spoke about home nursing providers who bring in foreign nurses under Foreign Domestic Worker permits.
Let me clarify that providers can only deploy nurses registered under the Singapore Nursing Board (SNB) to deliver home nursing services. The providers Assoc Prof Daniel Goh mentioned are employment agencies who bring in care aides to assist senior clients and they hold foreign domestic worker permits.
In parallel with efforts to grow the workforce are efforts to deepen skills and build new capabilities. To date, more than 7,000 ILTC staff have undergone various training, from care skills training to leadership programmes under the AIC Learning Institute.
Under the national SkillsFuture initiative, we will introduce the Healthcare Skills Future Study Awards to support skills upgrading of the healthcare workforce. The $5,000 study awards will support learning and development in the areas of aged care, healthcare IT, analytics and healthcare system design, organisation and delivery, and will benefit 50 healthcare staff this year. The awards will be opened for application from June this year.
MOH will also champion initiatives within the public healthcare sector to make our healthcare institutions age-friendly and enhance the longevity of our older experienced staff. Our healthcare institutions will be systematically introducing mechanisation to take away the physical strain of healthcare jobs. We will also redesign jobs, introduce flexible work arrangements (FWAs) and provide retraining to create more opportunities for older Singaporeans to work in the healthcare sector.
For instance, the National University Hospital (NUH) has started a flexi-work pilot for Singaporeans to help ward nurses with basic care duties, so that the nurses can focus on clinical nursing work. NUH targets to have up to 50 of such Basic Care Assistants and has already hired 16 under the pilot phase.