Assisi Hospice

Singapore’s National Strategy on Palliative Care

published by MediaCorp Radio 938LIVE on November 16, 2011

Last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced it will be working with the Assisi Hospice, one of Singapore’s oldest hospices, to boost its capacity and develop it into a centre for palliative care training. This is as it prepares to release a National Strategy for Palliative Care. 

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong explained that this is because Singapore’s changing lifestyle and healthcare needs bring about new challenges for end-of-life care. 

He said that while many deaths in the past were a result of acute illnesses like infections of heart attacks, deaths today are increasingly a result of a period of progressive disability due to incurable conditions like advanced cancer or organ failure. 

He added that Singapore will need to continuously modify its care model to respond effectively to these needs.

As part of the Ministry’s plans, Mr Gan said Assisi’s new hospice is expected to be completed by 2014 and will serve about 1,000 patients annually through inpatient care, day care and home hospice care services. 

The new hospice is also aimed at catering to twice the current patient load. 

938LIVE speaks to Irene Chan, the Executive Director of Assisi Hospice about MOH’s latest initiative. 

She feels said it was an important and very positive step to improve the quality of palliative care in Singapore. 

“We want to applaud MOH for this vision of first recognising the needs are there in the community, and also realising that for Singapore, we need to be creating a centre of excellence for palliative care. With a step up in this commitment, we do see more resources for the community as well as not just in terms of provision of capacity, but also capability of hospice workers. 

It’s really what the community needs, and we’ve been working with MOH to look at issues such as the ageing population and the fact that family size is shrinking. So it is then anticipated that more hospice beds are needed in Singapore. And the other consideration is that the current Assisi Hospice is not purpose-built, and the size limits the growth of the programmes and support services that we want to be providing.”  Irene tells us more about the challenges that the hospice sector faces. 

She said one of their main obstacles is a lack of awareness among Singaporeans about what a hospice is and the kind of services it provides. 

“Facing the hospice sector, there are greater challenges. And one of these challenges would be awareness. I think many Singaporeans are not aware that hospices exist and what hospices do. SO for many people, they may think that the purpose of a hospice is end-of-life care. But what does that really translate to? It means that it’s not so much that it’s waiting for the end of life to come, but looking at when a person is at this stage, what else can we do to enhance the quality of life, maintain it, improve it through medical nursing, psychosocial support and how we can support families on this journey.”  Apart from a need to create more awareness about the importance of hospice care in Singapore, Irene shares some other challenges hospices face at the moment. 

“Key challenges would be as mentioned, awareness. But next is also hospice workers. We don’t have enough trained and skilled hospice workers. So there is great urgency for us to step up in the area of training. And finally, there’s a need to translate the needs of the community into the work that we do. I think generally, hospices are very holistic in terms of our care of a person. But traditionally, we have always focused on people with cancer. But there are also other people who are not suffering from cancer and who need end-of-life care. As well as young people… In Assisi, we take care of children as well as young adults from 20-50. The needs of these people are very different from those at say, 70-80 years old. So being a service provider, we need to be able to respond appropriately to the needs of our patients and their families.”

Irene reveals that in order to improve standards of hospice care in Singapore as our population ages and family sizes shrink, greater dialogue about the needs of patients and families is necessary for the community to understand these needs and cater to them. 

“I believe that if we’re opening to looking at the needs of our patients and their families, then we are able to redesign our services and not just for hospices but for healthcare services in Singapore. So perhaps people can start talking about how they wish to be cared for, where they would like to be cared for… and then for the community to raise these resources to meet the aspirations.”

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