TLDR; As Singapore starts to gradually open up, we have all seen an exponential increase in the number of reported COVID-19 cases. The healthcare sector is strained more than ever, and workers are taking to social media to craft open letters and pour out their emotions.
Awareness on the plight of our healthcare workers amidst the pandemic is on the rise as nurses and doctors alike take to social media to pen their frustrations, challenges and express their emotions on the fatigue from the long hours; even abuse from patients.
An open letter was written to Minister Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Trade and Industry, who also co-chairs the COVID-19 multi-ministry taskforce, at a virtual press conference. The open letter was written in response to an article quoting Minister Gan on how “healthcare system remains stable despite the high number of COVID-19 cases”. It is important to note that Minister Gan also acknowledged at the same virtual press conference that the stress is on the primary healthcare system, particularly those on the “front-end” – general practitioner clinics, polyclinics and hospital emergency departments
You can view the full letter to Minister Gan below:
The account also has a few other letters dating back to February 2021.
Understanding the frustration of healthcare workers to support them better
The strain on front liners has resulted in the resignation of approximately 1,500 healthcare workers in the first half of 2021, compared with 2,000 annually pre-pandemic, according to government data released in November 2021.
The nurse to patient ratio has doubled from 1:6 to 1:12. Nurses don’t have time to take breaks; with most breaks lasting a maximum of 15 minutes, according to a nurse’s account. This is due to the lack of staffing when admissions reach maximum capacity. On top of that, healthcare workers also have to deal with unkind and abusive patients due to the longer waiting times at the hospitals.
Engaging the right people to protect our healthcare workers in a step in the right direction
The Healthcare Services Employees’ Union met with Health Minister Ong Ye Kung and made a request for healthcare workers to use hospitalization leave instead of the usual outpatient sick leave when they are down with acute respiratory infection, said Ms K. Thanaletchimi, president of the Healthcare Services Employees’ Union (HSEU). The union made this request so that workers won’t have to take unpaid leave if they run out of sick leave.
Ms Thanaletchimi also said that,
“Close to 70,000 healthcare workers in the three public health clusters will benefit from this. The policy will be reviewed in March to be in sync with the Covid-19 situation then.”
Health Minister Ong Ye Kung on Monday also wrote a heartfelt note to public hospital and polyclinic workers confirming this request. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen also affirmed support and said that 40 Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) personnel – mainly medics and some doctors – will be deployed at Accident & Emergency Departments to support the healthcare sector in light of the recent surge in cases.
As we navigate a post-pandemic world, everyone has a part to play.
Clinics and hospitals are deluged with COVID-19 patients whose employers insist on them producing a medical certificate (MC), despite the authorities saying this is unnecessary. Those experiencing mild symptoms from COVID-19 can do self-recovery and home isolation; coming to the clinics and Accident & Emergency departments will cause unnecessary strain on workers, and further delays for those who are experiencing more serious symptoms.
Healthcare workers, you’re not alone.
As more awareness is raised on the struggles of those in the healthcare sector, more conversations and actions are being taken to address them.
In the words of Ms Thanaletchimi, the announcement from Minister Ong Ye Kung will benefit workers in two ways;
First, it will allow those who are ill to rest and recover properly. “We’re treating the sick – so we have to be well.”
Second, it will give healthy workers peace of mind so they are able to go about their duties without having to worry about having their annual leave and no pay leave deducted.
Ms Thanaletchimi said: “This will help clear their minds, overcome fear and anxiety, and allow them to perform better. That’s the least we can do. It’s important to show that we hear them, care for them and act on it.”