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"... MOH has three important characteristics that make it easy to run.
First, it has clear objectives. Next it has well trained doctors
and third, it has talented people" - Mr Lim Hng Kiang

"Alumni Hosts Lunch for New Minister"

The Medical Alumni hosted a lunch for the new Minister for Health, Mr Lim Hng Kiang on 12 August 1999. This was attended by more than a hundred Alumni members and invited guests. The highlights of the lunch were the speeches made.

Medical Alumni

Dr Wong Sze Tai spoke as the Chairman of Medical Alumni Association and gave a briefing on the Alumniís history and also its efforts to recruit young Alumni members. These are members who have graduated within the last ten years.

Welcome to Minister Lim

Prof Arthur Lim, speaking as the President of the Medical Alumni, welcomed Mr Lim Hng Kiang and spoke of his having been educated in not one, but two of the best Universities in the world, namely, Cambridge where he studied Engineering and Harvard, where he studied Public Policy and Administration. Prof Lim said that in the interest of time, he had put the rest of the speech in a handout. He would like to request the Minister to look into the issue of ensuring a level playing field for local and overseas doctors.

Two aspects of concern

The third speaker was Dr Chee Phui Hung. He offered the Minister his support in his task of providing Singapore as good a health care system as any countryís in the world. He would like to raise for discussion two areas of concern. The first area concerned the ageing population and a plea for a Chair in Geriatrics. Dr Chee said that there are departments in Geriatrics in TTSH, AH and CGH, but having a formalised training schedule for undergraduates will stress its importance when they graduate. He added that Prof Lim who is also the Chairman of the University Endowment Fund will have no difficulty to persuade some philanthropist to endow such a Professorship in Geriatrics with the blessing and backing of the Ministry and the University.

His second concern was the ST newspaper report which said that the Government was pushing back a target of provision of medical manpower by 10 years. To quote from the newspaper article on 28 July: "To have to push back a target by 10 years when the stake is no less than the health of the people can be described as an unfortunate policy misjudgment. To have to do it twice could be an unforgivable policy blunder."


Minister replies

The Minister for Health was the fourth speaker. He thanked Dr Wong for briefing him on the history of the Alumni. He observed that whilst he could not be an alumni member, he did the next best thing which was to have a spouse who is an alumni member of NUS.

He made several positive remarks of the medical alumni and the medical fraternity. He said that the medical alumni is committed and the doctors have a very close bond, closer than what he observed in the other professions. Also he noted that doctors have paid the most attention to continuing education compared to other professions.

He also observed that MOH has 3 important characteristics that make it easy to run. First, it has clear objectives. Next it has well trained doctors and third, it has talented people. He felt that providing good health care to the people in Singapore should not be a problem.

In reply to the points raised by Dr Chee, Mr Lim said that he had heard of the reputation that Dr Chee "toasts and roasts" his guests and usually with more roast than toast. He said he was lucky to have gotten off so lightly to the laughter of the audience.

He said that he has no difficulty supporting the idea of geriatrics training but observed that Prof Arthur Lim has a tougher job because he has to raise the money for the Chair of Geriatrics since he is the Chairman of the NUS Endowment Fund.

On a more serious note, he dealt with Dr Cheeís second point. He said that in 1994, the government made a big change of policy. The new policy was to recruit 30,000 people per year from overseas to be Singapore citizens. This necessitated for more doctors a year to be trained to maintain the desired doctor-patient ratio of 1:650. Hence the change by the Government to increase the intake of doctors from 150 presently to 200.

Lessons in life from Cambridge

Dr Chee Phui Hung recounted a joke on how Cambridge keeps its lawns the way they are. One American visitor to the hallowed grounds of Cambridge University asked the Vice-Chancellor, "How do your keep your lawns so impeccable and immaculate?" The VC replied, "There is no secret to it. You just plant the grass, trim and roll it regularly for 200 years." And Dr Chee added with reference to Minister: "We hope you will succeed in your present job as well as you have done in your studies at Cambridge but please do not take so long as the Universityís lawns." This was greeted with laughter.

In his reply, the Minister said he had also a story of Cambridge to tell. He said that in his freshmanís year he attended an induction dinner in Cambridge. In Christ College that he attended, the dining hall separated 2 lawns called the first lawn and the second lawn. The seniors said that if one were to throw an egg from the first lawn to the second, the aerodynamics will ensure that the egg lands without cracking. The juniors were asked if they wanted to take up the challenge to prove the seniors wrong. He said that half of them were too drunk with port to decide against it and the other half felt it was not possible. The challenge was accepted. Those who were drunk did not throw high enough and the eggs ended up on the roof of the dining hall. Those who did not throw high enough had their eggs landed cracked on the pavement. Those few who did throw high enough and far enough indeed had their eggs landing on the second lawn uncracked. He said that he walked away with four lessons in life. First, stay sober. Second, aim high. Third, donít bet if you donít know enough. Fourth, be prepared to crack a few eggs in order to succeed.

JHSCS consultation rate

During question time, Dr Ronald Ng raised the point that the consultation rate charged by Johns Hopkins Singapore Clinical Services (JHSCS) is $250 for a short consultation compared to $45 - $85 in the Singapore Medical Association Guidelines on consultation fees (also available on the Internet). He wanted to know what is the philosophy of the Government on the pricing of health care. The Minister replied that his philosophy is that for the people it must be affordable health care and that he subscribes to the concepts of the Government Paper on Affordable Health Care.

Momento and photograph taking

The question-and-answer session was followed by a presentation of a momento to the Minister by Dr Wong Sze Tai and photograph taking. The Minister said he would answer more questions after the photograph taking session.

All in all, it was a good lunch, good company and good exchange of views and information. The Minister had certainly made a positive impact. This is ably summed up in Dr Cheeís speech. "With your educational and service background we are confident that you will be as successful if not more in your new Ministry."