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"Dr Chee Phui Hung's Speech for Minister of Health's
Visit on 12 August 1999"

Mr Lim Hng Kiang, may I add welcome and congratulations on your appointment as Minister for Health.

I must admit that you were an unknown quantity and quality to me. This is not surprising as I am an ancient retired doctor. Unfortunately this ignorance is not confined to the old fogeys. Some years ago, a houseman was asked who was the Minister for Health and he did not know. However, I am more prepared today and in an authoritative voice can inform this audience of your CV.

Mr Lim is a President and a SAF scholar. He read Engineering at Cambridge and graduated with First Class Honours and distinction. He later went to Harvard and received his Master of Public Administration.

Having served in various capacities in the SAF and the Government he entered politics and rose rapidly to be the Minister for National Development and Second Minister for Foreign Affairs in 1995. He is now the new Minister for Health and retains his position as the Second Minister for Finance.

In your new portfolio as the Health Minister your varied experience in other ministries will serve you in good stead. As the Minister of National Development your constituency is in great measure the Housing Board to provide adequate housing for the relevant population. In the Ministry of Health your concern is the entire population from the richest to the poorest, from the oldest to the youngest.

This afternoon the context is that part of your constituency that involves a narrow and specific spectrum – the professionals, the medical, dental and pharmaceutical graduates that provide the necessary framework to a good health care service. We number in the thousands only and we hope that we can be of help to you in this vital component of the health service.

Medical students, have traditionally been the most prank loving, rumbuctious and iconoclastic undergraduates as you probably found out when you were in Cambridge. Fortunately, they seem to mature when they graduate. Nevertheless they still remain the headache of administrators having retained some of their undergraduate culture although somewhat subdued in Singapore. Nevertheless as a group we are dedicated to service in the Hippocratic sense. We have some glaring and shameful examples but by and large we are still respected in our various fields. We offer to you as the new Minister our support in your task of providing as good as health care as any country in the world.

It is traditional that on such an occasion some aspects of health that concern us are voiced and perhaps some action be taken to allay our reservations. I would like to mention two.

Firstly, the aging population and a plea for a Chair in Geriatrics.

Before I proceed I must as you do in Parliament declare my vested interest in this. You can see this problem affects me personally and intimately. If the Ministry can successfully deal with this conundrum then I can look forward serenely in the rest of my days to adequate and affordable care.

That the problem of our ageing population is of ever increasing concern to the Government can be adduced from the publicity in the media on homes for the elderly in either housing estates or Elder villages, and from the many moves by Ministry of Health and the Government. The committee on the aged was the direct responsibility of the Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Aline Wong. With her departure who has taken over? Then there is the Inter-Ministerial Committee on the Elderly. What is the present state of these two projects? We have been told that by the year 2030 Singapore will have one of the highest percentage of elderly people. Even now many countries, Japan, USA, Britain are already facing the problem. It is very acute in the USA, as Republicans and Democrats are fighting over what to do with their expected surplus over the next ten years. Medicare and subsidised drugs are important issues. There it has been shown that the percentage of voters over 65 outnumbered the ones below 45 and in a free voting system this elderly lobby is crucial. Luckily in Singapore we have compulsory voting, otherwise you might find me leading actively the retired cohort for more benefits to our group.

All this preamble is to bring to the attention of the Ministry and the University that a Chair in Geriatrics should be established. We know that there are departments in Geriatrics in Tan Tock Seng, Alexandra and Changi General Hospital, but having a formalised training schedule for undergraduates will stress its importance when they graduate especially at the time that the problem of the aged is assuming more proportion and significance. I am sure that Arthur Lim our Present who is also 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.

The second and last subject I would like to bring up is the concern of the public on various matters brought up in an article in the The Straits Times on 28 July. I think most of us have read the article. I am sure that the Minister must have requested submissions from his staff on the various matters raised such as the shortage of doctors necessitating the increase in intake and an overseas recruitment for doctors, the pull of the private sector and ways to keep doctors in the service, more knowledgeable demands of better educated patients, medical hub and research plans and the cap of specialists at 40%.

To quote from the article: "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 misjudgement. To have to do it twice could be an unforgivable policy blunder."

Mr Minister, this afternoon is for your medical constituency to welcome you. With your educational and service background we are confident that you will be as successful if not more in your new Ministry. After all, there is not much that is beyond human endeavour. One American visitor to the hallowed grounds of Cambridge University asked the Vice-Chancellor, "How do you keep your lawns so impeccable and immaculate?" The VC replied, "There’s no secret to it. You just plant the grass, trim and roll it regularly for 200 years."

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 University’s lawns.