18 October 2014

Speech by Mr Teo Chee Hean, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for National Security and Minister for Home Affairs, at the HCA Hospice Care-Nectar Care Service Palliative Care Community Outreach Roadshow 2014

Ms Mary Ong, Vice President of HCA Hospice Care

Venerable Seck Sian Siang, President of Nectar Care Service Singapore (NCS)

Dr R Akhileswaran, CEO of HCA Hospice Care

Volunteers and friends

Ladies and gentlemen

1.            Good morning. It is good to see so many of you here at today’s Palliative Care Community Outreach roadshow. Palliative care is an important, but not often talked about, part of our healthcare system. All of us want to spend our last days in comfort and dignity, not only for ourselves, but for our loved ones and our families too. It is important for all of us to think about the kind of care that we want near the end of life, so that we can receive appropriate care when the time comes.

2.            Yet, death and dying are often considered taboo topics, which we prefer not to think or talk about. Many people never broach such topics with their loved ones, as they are afraid to talk about end-of-life issues. However, this means that important decisions about end-of-life care are often made only after a medical crisis strikes, in an atmosphere fraught with stress and worry. This not only causes much distress to patients, but also to their loved ones.

3.            Palliative care helps patients to spend their last days in comfort and dignity, by providing holistic care. This includes pain control and symptom relief, psychosocial care, counselling and bereavement support for families. With palliative care, a patient can continue having quality of life even towards the end of life. Palliative care also reduces fear and anxiety for both the patient and his family. It helps put them back in control in the last leg of the patient’s journey as they work with medical professionals to determine the best course of action and care for the patient. Besides medical treatment, palliative care can also offer emotional and spiritual support. So, it can make a profound difference to the patient and his family, by helping them to be more prepared for the end of life. I would like to acknowledge the important and meaningful work done by hospice and palliative care professionals for patients and their families.

4.            In Singapore, palliative care was started by motivated and concerned individuals in the mid-1980s. They understood the importance of meeting the needs of patients dying of cancer at home, and how much difference this could make to these patients and their families. Today, palliative care is provided in a multitude of settings, including hospices, hospitals, nursing homes, and patients’ homes. Every year, about five to six thousand patients receive palliative care. Given our ageing population, this number is expected to grow to about 10,000 by 2020.

5.            To support the needs of our ageing population, the Ministry of Health announced its plans to strengthen palliative care for Singapore in June this year. MOH will make palliative care more accessible by increasing the capacity of both residential and home-based palliative care services. It will enhance the quality of palliative care through the newly-developed National Guidelines for Palliative Care. MOH is also improving the affordability of palliative care services by increasing the Medisave withdrawal limits for palliative care services from 1 January 2015. In short, we are working hard to enhance the accessibility, quality and affordability of palliative care.

6.            We want to encourage Singaporeans to learn more about palliative care and to have these important conversations with their loved ones about end-of-life issues. To this end, MOH is working with various community partners to raise public awareness about palliative care. For example, MOH recently supported the Lien Foundation in its Both Sides Now exhibition, which made its rounds in Yishun and Toa Payoh last month.

7.            Our organisers today, HCA Hospice Care and Nectar Care Services, have done much good work in providing palliative care and public education. HCA Hospice Care is the largest home hospice care provider in Singapore, caring for more than 3,700 patients in the past year. It has also trained more than 700 caregivers in the past year. Nectar Care Services has worked hard to promote awareness of end-of-life issues. It has trained 400 volunteers and caregivers to provide counselling and emotional support to patients with terminal illness. In the past three years, Nectar Care’s volunteers have served about 60 patients. Your work has made a huge difference to the patients and their families.

8.            With good palliative care, more patients can spend their last days in comfort and dignity, and their families can also be better prepared emotionally to see them through the end of their journey. I hope this event jointly organised by HCA and Nectar Care will encourage all of us to reflect and talk about end-of-life issues, even if it may be difficult to do so. Besides helping us to plan ahead, such conversations also give us a renewed appreciation for life, and encourage us to live life to the full, and to make meaningful contributions in whatever way we can. 

9.            Thank you.