Singapore's recent public hospitals bed-crunch has brought into focus the issue of medical tourism in the limelight once again, with many questioning whether it is due to an increase in the number of foreign patients. While the said premise is debatable, it is certainly true that the country's healthcare services are increasingly reliant on foreign manpower.
The minister of health, Gan Kim Yong, in his committee of supply (COS) speech in March last year assured the Parliament that “over the years, foreign patients have remained about 2% of the public sector’s total patient load”. In comparison, the healthcare manpower, in the public sector has been rising steadily, and have almost doubled between 2006 and 2012.
Earlier in 2012, the minister had noted in his COS speech, “Over the last five years, we have increased the number of our doctors, nurses and allied health professionals in the public sector by 53%, 72% and 86% respectively.”
While above data by the ministry of health (MOH) doesn't indicate how many of these are foreigners, media reports have noted that almost one-fifth are. Salma Khalik, in her article for the Strait Times, Foreign docs learning local languages, noted, “Foreign doctors are here to stay. More than 20% of those practising in Singapore come from abroad.”
But the biggest clue about Singapore's reliance on foreign healthcare manpower comes from National Population and Talent Division's (NPTD) Occasional Paper - Projection of foreign manpower demand for healthcare sector, construction workers and foreign domestic workers 2012.
The NPTD estimated that at current fertility and immigration rates “the median age of the citizen population will increase from 39 years in 2011 to 45 years in 2030. The number of elderly aged 65 years and above will increase from 340,000 (10%) in 2011 to 900,000 (24%) in 2030. In particular, the number of citizens aged 80 years and above who will require more care and support, will increase from 70,000 in 2011 to 210,000 in 2030”.
Thus, anticipating an increasing demand for healthcare services and care-giving support for Singapore's growing elderly population, MOH has projected the growth of foreign manpower in the healthcare sector, NTPD argued.
In conclusion, the NTPD noted that while MOH will expand Singapore's resident healthcare manpower as well as raise productivity of the healthcare sector, “our supply of resident healthcare manpower will not be sufficient to meet the sharp increase in manpower demand. Hence, we will continue to need to supplement our resident training pipeline with foreign recruitment”.