Dr Angel Lee, Chairman, Singapore Hospice Council

Ms Yeo Tan Tan, Chief Executive, Singapore Hospice Council

Ladies and gentlemen

Good morning. The theme of the inaugural Grief and Bereavement Conference Our Collective Voices, is aptly chosen. It recognises that grief need not be borne by an individual, but can be a shared human experience. It also signifies how, in times of bereavement, we need to galvanise the support of different groups in the community to help the bereaved.

This conference is a valuable platform for healthcare professionals, social care workers, faith leaders, educators, volunteers, and funeral directors to network and exchange knowledge and perspectives on grief and bereavement, and to explore how to better manage such issues and share solutions. This is an important step towards improving the quality and capability of grief and bereavement services delivered throughout the care continuum.

Grief and Bereavement in Our Society

At some point in our lives, we will experience grief when we lose somebody important and significant to us. Yet, grief is not an experience we commonly talk about or an emotion we openly express. As a society, we remain conservative when it comes to discussing death-related matters, and often avoid it. In addition to coping with feelings of grief, the bereaved also have to deal with many practical matters and adjustments after the death of a loved one.

Last year, close to 21,000 deaths occurred in Singapore. This number has grown by an average of almost 500 deaths each year since 2010, in tandem with a rapidly ageing population where 1 in 4 Singaporeans is expected to be aged 65 or above come 2030. As the number of bereaved individuals and families will see a corresponding increase, it is timely that we, as a society, give our attention not only to the dying but also to the people they leave behind.

Community Support for Grief and Bereavement

Last week, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced plans to review and strengthen support for caregivers to help lessen their care burden. To this end, grief and bereavement support can also help caregivers cope better with the painful experiences they face. Many caregivers have shared that the last days to months of care are especially stressful and overwhelming. We hear their struggles and are working on processes to help caregivers navigate information and services during this period.

At the onset, caregivers of patients who are suffering from a life-limiting illness should receive psychosocial support from the attending healthcare team and community care providers. Grief and bereavement are important aspects of palliative care, where we aim to provide holistic care for end-of-life patients. Palliative care patients and their families are supported by a multi-disciplinary team of doctors, nurses and social workers who assess the physical, psychosocial and spiritual needs and provide the necessary assistance to help family members cope with grief.

Building Up Singapore's Palliative Care Sector

The Singapore Hospice Council (SHC) and the palliative care fraternity have been key partners in enhancing the quality of palliative care. The introduction of the National Guidelines for Palliative Care in 2014 was a milestone achievement in raising the standards for palliative care across all service providers, including those related to providing good caregiver support and bereavement care.

Since last year, MOH has been working with SHC on a quality improvement programme to provide training and mentorship for palliative care providers and collaborate with the sector on quality improvement projects in order to provide good palliative care and bereavement support for Singaporeans.

MOH is also increasing the accessibility of palliative care services. We are strengthening home and community care options so that more Singaporeans can receive care where they prefer. To this end, MOH is working with our providers to expand day hospice capacity, and for home palliative care, to have at least 6,000 places per year by 2020.

In addition, we are increasing the affordability of palliative care services. Over the past few years, we have also increased subsidies and MediSave withdrawal limits for inpatient hospice and home palliative care patients, and extended subsidies and MediSave coverage to day hospice and paediatric home palliative care.

Earlier this year, we announced that we are extending subsidies under the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund, so that eligible patients on home palliative care will be subsidised for consumables such as catheters and milk feeds.

SHC's Grief and Bereavement Books

After the death of a loved one, it is important that the bereaved continue to receive both psychosocial support and assistance with practical matters from their social network as well as from professionals. Relatives, friends, colleagues, classmates and faith groups play an important role in supporting the bereaved. It is therefore important to raise their levels of understanding about grief and knowledge on how to support this group.

SHC, together with Temasek Foundation Cares and Ang Chin Moh Foundation, will launch two books on the topics related to grief and bereavement today. The first book titled Caring for Yourself and Others After a Death contains information and suggestions for Singaporeans on caring for themselves and supporting others with bereavement needs. Whether you are a concerned neighbour, a teacher, or a colleague, the book offers tips appropriate to your role and context when you are called upon to support a bereaved member of your community.

The second book, prepared by SHC and volunteer law students, is titled When a Death Occurs � a Guide to Practical Matters and covers matters related to funeral planning and estate management. Not all of us are familiar and prepared for the tasks awaiting us after the death of a loved one. Some of us will need additional guidance to understand the legal instruments, legislations and policies that are in place to safeguard the interests of the deceased and their next-of-kin as we manage the estate of the deceased. I congratulate SHC on the launch of these books. They will be valuable resources very much welcome in difficult times.

Closing

Earlier in June this year, I launched SHC's Live Well, Leave Well campaign, where I encouraged Singaporeans to start talking about end-of-life matters with their loved ones. Similarly, I would like to encourage Singaporeans to not be afraid to express, share and accept your grief.

I hope this conference will be a meaningful time of learning about grief and bereavement for each of you, and that you will forge more synergies and meaningful partnerships through this community of Collective Voices to benefit the grieving and bereaved.

Thank you.

Source:Ministry of Health, Singapore