Opening Address at Finale of the NUS Medical Grand Challenge 2021
Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng , Virtual
Professor Tan Eng Chye, President of the National University of Singapore,
Professor Chong Yap Seng, Dean of NUS Medicine,
Dr Dujeepa Samarasekera, Chair of the Medical Grand Challenge,
Ms Xiao Jieling, Ms Jenny Ma, Co-Presidents of the Medical Grand Challenge
Judges, NUS faculty members, students, ladies and gentlemen,
Good morning. Thank you for inviting me to the finale of this year’s Medical Grand Challenge. I am delighted to see international teams from countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam participating alongside our teams from Singapore.
2 The spirit of innovation has come a long way in propelling clinical research and development in the past one hundred years. Your innovative ideas will hopefully go a longer way towards advancing predictive and pre-emptive medical care and building a more resilient and sustainable healthcare ecosystem. On this note, I would like to congratulate all the teams for your hard work and dedication.
3 The diversity of participants across countries and professional expertise epitomises the spirit of the Medical Grand Challenge to promote cultural diversity, inclusion, equity, and interdisciplinary collaboration. Not only will this accelerate our efforts to identify systemic and care gaps, but it will also allow us to co-create transformative and sustainable solutions using real world evidence.
4 The COVID-19 pandemic has time and again tested the resilience of the global and local healthcare community. Their valiant efforts as frontline workers are commendable. However, this fight is not over yet. We need to be bolder; we need to think out of the box faster and we need to be ever more nimble and responsive to protect lives, and at the same ensure livelihoods are preserved in a rapidly evolving and fluid environment.
5 In Singapore, we have acted quickly to innovate and protect the health of our migrant workers in a few ways.
Enabling Healthcare Access through Technology
6 First, we leveraged on technology to make telemedicine accessible to all migrant workers at their fingertips 24-hours a day, through a mobile application. The pace of adoption for telemedicine consultations was unprecedented in light of COVID-19 restrictions. This has also provided a critical line of healthcare defence and has made care even more accessible for all migrant workers.
7 Telemedicine complemented physical consultations made available at the regional medical centres. For example, migrant workers with stable chronic conditions could get their medication refilled with ease. Telemedicine consultations also provided quick triage to give migrant workers a peace of mind and ensure seamless care is delivered at the regional medical centres if their conditions warranted physical consults. To expand outreach, we also worked with the Ministry of Health, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) such as Migrant Workers’ Centre (MWC) and partners from the private sector to deploy tele-kiosks to dormitories, to reach out to migrant workers who had no smartphones to do video consultations. This has allowed care to be delivered promptly in spite of restrictions imposed during the COVID-19 pandemic. Throughout the last 19 to 20 months or so, as a result of these innovations, we have been able to provide good and adequate care for our migrant workers. Not a single one of them has been denied care, and this is done whilst not overwhelming our healthcare system.
Co-creating Mental Health Support for Migrant Workers
8 Second, we sought new ways to co-create a robust mental health support ecosystem for migrant workers. Last year, we set up the Project DAWN. It’s a taskforce to address Depression, promote Awareness, Well-being, and help them Normalise when they come out of these episodes among our migrant workers.
9 We are always mindful of the need to better support the mental wellbeing of our migrant workers. We have been working tirelessly with NGOs, such as the MWC and HealthServe, to ensure that migrant workers have access to mental health support and assistance. More can always be done to make mental health support more attuned to the needs of migrant workers, and we will make more of these available where they live, work and play.
10 On this note, we have strengthened collaboration with NGOs to ensure that counselling services and support helplines are available in our migrant workers’ native languages. Mental health resources are also translated into their native language so that migrant workers are better aware of issues related to their mental health and importantly know where to seek help.
Collaboration with NUS Medicine
11 I’m happy that at the introduction of Professor Chong Yap Seng, we have also collaborated with NUS through the “My BrotherSG” initiative led by Dr Tam Wai Jia. “My BrotherSG” has developed a series of initiatives to empower and engage Singapore’s migrant worker community digitally through risk communication and community engagement. Since June 2020, they have published various healthcare tips in the form of comics and other educational resources on the “My BrotherSG” Facebook page to provide the migrant worker community with information about health and personal hygiene. More recently, “My BrotherSG” has also worked with the Project DAWN taskforce to develop a one-stop mental health resource called “Light up your life” for migrant workers. These resources are co-developed with input from NGOs and migrant workers, to ensure the materials are attuned to the needs of the migrant workers and also culturally relevant. Through these efforts, they have managed to reach more than 45,000 individuals since the inception of this very laudable initiative.
12 To engender a strong support ecosystem to look, to listen and to link care for migrant workers, we adopted a worker-centric approach to wrap support around the worker. We partnered employers and dormitories to roll out peer support networks comprising of buddy systems and peer support leaders to lend a listening ear for migrant workers, and to apply psychological first aid. Beyond these efforts, we have also worked with and gotten the support from the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) to equip frontline healthcare professionals with the knowledge and skills to identify early signs of distress amongst migrant workers, and then they can go on to provide supportive intervention for de-escalation or to escalate cases for further intervention. Our Forward Assurance and Support Teams (FAST) are also trained to identify and administer basic psychological first aid to distressed workers.
13 All of these collective efforts will further optimise the support network for our migrant workers, and it is even more important now as COVID-19 has changed the way we live and work.
New Integrated Primary Healthcare Ecosystem for Migrant Workers
14 Third, we are revamping the way in which we deliver primary care for migrant workers beyond COVID-19. Innovation is not limited to just technology. We are adopting a new innovative approach to rethink out of the box how primary healthcare should be delivered for our migrant workers. Currently, primary care for migrant workers is fragmented and episodic. This had led to care gaps in health education, chronic disease management and as a result of cultural barriers a lot of poorer health-seeking behaviour has resulted.
15 Last month, we took a bold step forward by inviting business entities, NGOs and consortiums to submit proposals to deliver integrated primary care that is attuned to the needs of migrant workers. In this new model, migrant workers will be enrolled into dedicated medical centres and telemedicine providers to build stronger doctor-patient relationships, to better understand their health issues and also to better cater to their longer-term care needs. This new integrated primary healthcare ecosystem will operate like a “Hub-and-Spoke model of care, in six zones or geographical sectors.
- Each will be anchored by a “Hub” Medical Centre for Migrant Workers, providing a comprehensive suite of services near migrant workers’ places of residence.
- This will be coupled with smaller “Spoke” Onsite Medical Centres at selected large dormitories, alongside with Mobile Clinical Teams for rapid health response towards emerging clusters, and 24-hour telemedicine services.
16 We will also look into reducing the language and cultural barriers to improve outreach and patient care. An example would be to have healthcare workers in our healthcare system who can converse with the migrant workers in their native languages. Healthcare partners will also develop cost-effective operating and financing models, empowered with data-sharing platforms, to optimise health outcomes while ensuring affordable care. If done well, and we hope you can also give us more ideas, not only will care be more accessible, more affordable and delivered in a more culturally attuned way. It will also help us to provide that important element of constant vigilance and surveillance to mitigate the risks of future infectious disease outbreaks.
17 This momentous shift signals our commitment to collaborate and co-create the way we deliver care with our healthcare partners, to bring about better patient affordability, better continuity of care and robust public health surveillance.
18 In closing, every idea counts towards driving healthcare innovation sustainably, and this for the betterment of society. You may also better appreciate how human ingenuity is infinite and limitless in the face of adversity.
19 I look forward to hearing more of your innovative and creative ideas at the Medical Grand Challenge and I wish each one of you every success at the Challenge.
20 Thank you very much.