First world health care – its not just fancy machines and high tech care

I, Doctor



I have an aunt in a nursing home, and my cousins don’t visit her. They don’t pay for her, and they don’t give her any money.  You won’t think of my aunt when you think of “first world health care” but to me, this is what she is getting.

I was thinking about healthcare after reading Mr Low Thia Khiang’s speech in Parliament when he talked about crowded hospitals and Singapore going from first to “third world” health care. When he says this, I guess he is blaming the government for not spending enough.

I guess that is true – but if the hospital beds were empty, tax payers won’t be happy either. Getting the balance right is something the Government has to figure out.

And then there are salaries.

Which is good – because if we want to attract people into the industry, we need to pay. People are at the forefront of the medical care industry and you simply couldn’t stinge on them.

But when I think about healthcare, I don’t just think about hospitals – actually, healthcare is not just about high medicine.

Because I was thinking about my auntie, who is 88 this year.

It costs about $80 to $100 a day in the nursing home. The government for 75% per cent of the fees. The other 25% is supposed to be paid by her children but they don’t pay at all – so the charity which runs the home pays for it.  She gets companionship, she makes friends, and she sees the lives transformed in the nursing home.

She sees nasty old men, sick and frustrated, who shout vulgarities at the nurses and nursing aids. But they never retaliate. (True, most of them are foreigners so may be they don’t understand!) But their care has always been stolid, if not always smiling.

She sees a woman coming in her mid-70s, covered in her own faeces, and shouting and railing at her staff. This woman was thought to be mentally unsound by her own family, who gave up caring for her. Today, this same person is clean, steady on her feet and does simple chores around the nursing home – sweeping the floor, folding pajamas. This is first world care.

True, health care is about insurance schemes and doctors pay and hospital beds. It is about how much we spend. But it is also about how the different pieces work together. And here, I think we are doing ok. Perhaps not first world, but certainly not third.

As for my aunt, she is frail and in a wheelchair. But she has a great smile and a good singing voice. The home brings her out once a week, they have “gym” where she goes for exercises and a café run by the residents where she buys fresh brewed coffee from the small allowance I give her. She gets medication, she has a visit from the doctor once a week, and most of all, she has dignity, a home, and good friends.

To me this is first world health care.






  1. This only proves that there is more to expect from a healthcare and not just about the high-tech machines they have. It is more of giving hopes and big chances to people who want to be cured from sickness without worrying of paying how much it will cost them.

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