Doing More for Caregivers in Singapore

Parliamentary Questions, 14 Jan 2019

Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Health (a) whether there is an impending national caregiving plan to address the complex challenges in this area; (b) whether the Action Plan for Successful Ageing, Enabling Masterplan and Community Mental Health Masterplan address the psychosocial and mental health needs of caregivers and, if so, how; and © what is the current percentage of healthcare spending on caregiving.

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Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister of Health: Caregiving needs will grow as our population ages, with one in four Singaporeans aged 65 and above by 2030. Guided by the Action Plan for Successful Ageing, MOH’s approach towards supporting caregivers, includes expanding and deepening the range of care options available for their loved ones, so that caregivers can have peace of mind.

To this end, we have added 2,600 day places and 2,300 home care places since 2015. We have also made respite care at nursing homes and eldercare centres more accessible so that caregivers can have a reprieve in caregiving. Overall, around $800 million was spent in 2016 on the long term care sector, which could help to meet these caregiving needs and to ensure that quality care is affordable and accessible.

Besides these efforts, other programmes are in place to support the psychosocial and mental health needs of caregivers. For example, community outreach and community intervention teams are available to provide caregivers with emotional support, psycho-social education and counselling, equipping them with more insights about their loved one’s conditions and how they can be better supported. Caregiver support networks are also a valuable source of peer support and mutual help.

In addition, support for caregivers of persons with disabilities has also been enhanced under the Third Enabling Masterplan. For example, SG Enable recently set up a ‘Caregiver Pod’ at the Enabling Village to facilitate peer support group activities and training, and to make it convenient for caregivers to access information, referrals to disability services and support.

We have also seen ground-up initiatives, such as the Caregiving@Southwest programme recently launched by the Southwest Community Development Council in December 2018. The effort seeks to build community-wide awareness and recognition of caregivers and their caregiving needs, and brings together community partners to show collective support for caregivers. We want to encourage more of such ground-up local efforts, as part of a whole-of-society effort to support our caregivers.

However, we recognise that more can be done. A review is presently being undertaken to look into strengthening support for senior caregiving. As part of the review, MOH has been engaging caregivers and other stakeholders to gather feedback and discuss ideas since September last year. Areas under review include improving care navigation in the community, enhancing caregiver support in areas such as respite services, and working with community partners to offer more socio-emotional support to caregivers. MOH and partner agencies are developing specific recommendations in these areas, and more details will be provided in due course.

*Note that the Minister has not answer question © on the % of healthcare spend on caregiving.

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Ms Anthea Ong asked the Minister for Health (a) what is the current number of informal and professional caregivers in Singapore; (b) what is the total value of the informal versus the professional caregiving sector; and © how many salaried working persons left employment to be primary caregivers in the last three years and what is the demographic profile of these persons.

Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister of Health: Caregiving needs will grow as our population ages, and the Government is expanding home and community care services, to support families and provide caregivers with peace of mind. As of 2017, we have about 8,300 staff providing direct care to seniors in the long-term care sector. However, families and friends are also an important source of care and support for our seniors. Based on the National Health Surveillance Survey conducted in 2010 and 2013, around 6% — 8% of Singapore residents aged 18–69 provide regular informal care or assistance to family and friends with health issues, long-term illnesses or disability. As informal caregiving arrangements vary, we do not have available estimates of the total value of informal caregiving to make a direct comparison with formal caregiving.

Some working persons may leave the workforce to focus on family responsibilities. Based on the Ministry of Manpower’s 2017 Comprehensive Labour Force SSurvey, 202,000 residents left their job within the last three years and were not looking for a job. Of this number, about 12,500 residents cited family caregiving to families or relatives as the main reason, and the majority of these residents were females, married and aged 40 and over.

We also recognise the important roles that family caregivers play, and the need to take a whole-of-community approach to support them. The Government will continue to review how we can further encourage ageing in place and provide more direct and holistic support for caregivers of seniors.

Note(s) to question:

1 Direct care staff refer to doctors, dentists, registered nurses, enrolled nurses, nursing support staff, Allied Health Professionals (AHPs) and AHP support staff. Admin and ancillary staff are excluded in this definition.

2 The long-term care sector comprises community care settings such as the nursing homes, hospices and home and centre-based care services. Community hospitals are not included.

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Anthea Ong is a Nominated Member of Parliament. (A Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) is a Member of the Parliament of Singapore who is appointed by the President. They are not affiliated to any political party and do not represent any constituency. There are currently nine NMPs in Parliament.)

The multi-sector perspective that comes from her ground immersion of 12 years in different capacities helps her translate single-sector issues and ideas across boundaries without alienating any particular community/group. As an entrepreneur and with many years in business leadership, it is innate in her to discuss social issues with the intent of finding solutions, or at least of exploring possibilities.

She champions mental health, diversity and inclusion — and volunteerism in Parliament.

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