Exporting health to Singapore
With few opportunities at home and a big demand in the booming Asian city-state, many young Irish healthcare professionals are taking positions there, writes CLIFFORD COONANin Singapore
A RECENT SURVEY named Singapore as the richest country in the world, and with great wealth has come the attendant health issues, such as diabetes and chronic illnesses associated with greater longevity.
Singapore is looking to increase the number of health professionals to meet growing demand for care by 50 per cent in the next eight years, a rise of 20,000 people.
All of which is a great opportunity for Ireland, and the country’s profile in medicine in Singapore is extremely high.
One of the best-known figures in the healthcare scene in Singapore is Dr Cormac O’Muircheartaigh, who is medical director of the Singapore Sports Council.
Singapore is clearly aware of Ireland’s training methods – about a quarter of physiotherapy graduates in Trinity College Dublin and Limerick University have opted to head for the tropics to work, as there are precious few opportunities at home.
Nearly four in 10 people in the city-state are foreigners, out of a population of five million or so, so it’s a place used to welcoming people from overseas.
“Over the last 10 years our population increased by 25 per cent. We are also ageing rapidly. By 2030, one in five Singaporean residents will be aged 65 and above. This is a threefold increase to 960,000 elderly, from around 350,000 today,” Gan Kim Yong, Singapore’s minister for health, said in a speech earlier this year.
Increasing life expectancy and changing lifestyles means Singapore faces a growing burden of chronic diseases.
The International Institute for Management Development (IMD) ranked Singapore third best in the world on health infrastructure, third lowest in the world on infant mortality and seventh highest in life expectancy.
Singapore’s life expectancy has increased from 78 years in 2001 to almost 82 years in 2010, while infant mortality rates have fallen from 2.5 to 2.0 per 1,000 live births over the same period, putting Singapore on a par with wealthy European countries.
With increasing life expectancy and more sedentary lifestyles, Singaporeans are faced with a growing burden of chronic diseases.
This requires a lot more dedicated healthcare professionals, and the health ministry estimates that the city-state will need to grow the healthcare professional workforce such as doctors, nurses, dentists, pharmacists and allied health professionals by 50 per cent, or about 20,000 more, by 2020.
And to fill these positions, Singapore has to look abroad.
“Our foreign doctors, nurses and allied health professionals have worked alongside our local professionals and contributed towards quality patient care in the public sector, and they will continue to be an important supplement to our local healthcare workforce,” the minister said.
Now in his early 80s, Prof Barry Cullen from Cavan works in the Singapore National Eye Centre. After graduating from the National University of Ireland in 1952, Prof Cullen spent much of his career in Scotland where he was consultant neuro-ophthalmologist to departments of ophthalmology and neurosurgery.
On retiring from his consultant posts in Scotland in 1999 he was invited to Singapore to set up a comprehensive service in neuro-ophthalmology and to assist in the training of local ophthalmologists.
“What they need is more doctors. People are living longer and the demand for young doctors is very high. They are trying to bring back more Singapore doctors by offering incentives, and they are trying to open the hospitals up, but there are not enough Singapore doctors to man them,” said Prof Cullen.