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"Speech by Tony Tan Keng Yam, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, at the Official Opening of Yishun Polyclinic on Saturday, 8 May 99 at 12 Noon"

It gives me great pleasure to officiate this afternoon at the opening of Yishun Polyclinic.

Many residents in Yishun had asked for a polyclinic. I commend the MP for Nee Soon Central, Mr Ong Ah Heng, and the Ministry of Health for making this possible by converting the previous Yishun Medical Cente into this well-equipped new-generation polyclinic to provide primary health care to the residents of Yishun.

Primary health care is recognised the world over as a major component of any country’s health care delivery system. It plays an important role in maintaining the health of the population and serves as "gatekeeper," reducing unnecessary use of hospitals.

Effective primary health care helps individuals maintain good health through health promotion, health education and disease prevention. For sick patients, early diagnosis and good management at primary care level helps in speedy recovery from illness, reduces complications and prevents unnecessary hospitalisation. This not only keeps health care costs under control but also enhances the patient’s welfare and that of his family.

Private general practitioners form the mainstay of Singapore’s primary health care system. There are at present more than 1,100 general practitioner clinics all over the island. This widely distributed network of GP clinics brings primary health care to the doorstep of our people. As more than half of GP clinics operate in the evenings, they are also readily available to serve our workers. A sick patient and his relatives will appreciate the convenience of having a GP located near his home to help save time and costs.

Where do Polyclinics fit into this picture? Polyclinics have an important role in the health care delivery system of Singapore. When public sector outpatient care facilities were set up in the early part of this Century, the primary objective was to ensure that poor Singaporeans have access to a good standard of primary health care. This role has remained unchanged as polyclinics today continue to provide subsidised care to Singaporeans. The subsidy covers 50% of total operating costs, with the elderly and young enjoying a much higher subsidy of 75%. Patients, who cannot afford the subsidised care of the polyclinics, can apply to have their fees waived. This ensures that no Singaporean is denied medical care.

Polyclinics also provide many important aspects of care which GPs do not generally provide, including organised health education programmes talks on the self- management of obesity, monitoring of blood pressure, diabetes care, and cancer screening which are important to improve the health of Singaporeans. Residents of Yishun are encouraged to make use of such health promoting programmes.

To provide such front-line health care effectively, GPs and polyclinic doctors need to be well trained. Family Medicine is a well recognised discipline in medicine, which trains doctors to provide personal, continuing and comprehensive care to all members of the family. Understanding the patient’s medico-social makeup and his family dynamics enables the family doctor to provide holistic care for the patient’s illness. Patients can then recover faster and get back to their normal pattern of life.

In Singapore, the degree of Master of Medicine in Family Medicine is a comprehensive 3 year postgraduate training programme for doctors who wish to undergo specialised training in family medicine. Working in polyclinics plays a very important part in the training of these doctors.

Since 1991, 87 doctors here have been awarded the Master of Medicine in Family Medicine. Of these, 34 are working in the polyclinics, to provide clinical leadership and training for our younger doctors. Through this we will be able over time, to build up a strong core of well-trained general practitioners to continually improve the standard of primary health care to Singaporeans.

To sum up, polyclinics will complement the services of GPs here by enabling all Singaporeans to get access to good and affordable primary healthcare, in particular family medicine care. Such a partnership will help ensure that the health of Singaporeans remains good and continues to improve.

On this note, I have pleasure in declaring Yishun Polyclinic open.