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The gist: Health and wealth discussed in the House

SINGAPORE - On the third and last day of this month’s Parliament sitting, MPs debated a motion on supporting healthcare beyond the Covid-19 pandemic, tabled by Nominated MPs Tan Yia Swam, Shahira Abdullah and Abdul Samad.

During question time, MPs also discussed topics such as municipal feedback and the flow of wealth into Singapore.

Here are the key takeaways:

1. No residential property purchases by family offices in past 6 years

Even as more ultra-rich foreigners set up family offices in Singapore to manage their wealth, there is no evidence as yet that they are contributing to the surge in prices and rents of private homes, said Minister of State for Trade and Industry Alvin Tan.

While there were 700 single family offices (SFOs) in Singapore by the end of 2021, managing about $90 billion worth of assets, there was no residential property transaction attributable to them over the last six years, he added. 

Why it matters

Private home prices have risen sharply over the past year, and some have linked the rise with foreign wealth flowing into Singapore.

However, Mr Tan noted that the share of private residential property purchases by foreigners has gone down from 20 per cent in 2011, to a low of about 3 per cent to 4 per cent in the past few years. Coming out of the pandemic, the share has remained limited at about 7 per cent in the first quarter of 2023, he added.

The data shows that family offices, just like other asset managers, are using the Republic as a gateway to tap investment opportunities in Asia and other parts of the world. In 2021, Singapore’s asset management industry, which includes family offices, grew by 16 per cent to reach $5.4 trillion. Only 10 per cent of that money was invested into local assets, which includes property.

READ MORE HERE: No residential property purchases by family offices in S’pore in past 6 years: Alvin Tan

2. All to play a part in healthcare

Singapore will draw on the lessons learnt from handling the Covid-19 pandemic to usher in a new era of even closer collaboration among stakeholders to tackle upcoming healthcare issues, said Health Minister Ong Ye Kung. 

The Government has decided that the conditions and timing are right to effect a major healthcare transformation, to “go beyond treating sickness in hospitals and clinics by creating health in homes and communities”, he added.

This will be especially important as the population ages, which has implications across multiple policy areas including employment, competitiveness, retirement adequacy, urban planning, education and healthcare. 

Why it matters

The new approach to healthcare outlined by Mr Ong entails not only better inter-agency collaboration, but also Singaporeans playing a bigger role.

Mr Ong said health is not just relevant to patients who have fallen sick, but also for the healthy, and this is embodied in the phrase “Health for All”.

When healthcare is mostly treating sickness, it falls mostly under the domain of doctors and hospitals. But when healthcare is about creating health and caring for people in their homes and communities, it becomes everyone’s business.

3. Spending more does not guarantee better health

Spending more on healthcare, like what some of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries do, may not translate into better health outcomes, said Mr Ong.

Responding to Progress Singapore Party Non-Constituency MP Leong Mun Wai’s suggestion for the Government to spend more to make medical fees more affordable, Mr Ong noted that the United States and Britain spend about 17 per cent and 10 per cent of their gross domestic product (GDP) respectively on healthcare, but the two countries grapple with higher rates of chronic illnesses and obesity, and a shorter life expectancy compared with Singapore. 

Why it matters

Singapore currently spends 4 per cent of its GDP on healthcare, and yet the Ministry of Health already has the second-largest ministry budget after the Ministry of Defence.

Based on current expenditure, healthcare remains affordable for the middle- to lower-income groups, said Mr Ong. He cited how seven in 10 Singaporeans in subsidised hospital wards do not have to pay any out-of-pocket expenses, and how eight in 10 subsidised patients fork out less than $100. 

“So when Mr Leong asked the Government to spend more to lower out-of-pocket expenses further, he really meant to channel resources to unsubsidised patients, (such as) those staying in A class wards or private hospitals. That is where the big bucks are and will push our healthcare spending to the level of the OECD countries,” he said. 

READ MORE HERE: More spending on healthcare does not mean a healthier population: Ong Ye Kung

If you have a few more minutes...

Top five agencies contacted through OneService app

The five agencies which collectively received the bulk of feedback on the OneService app are the Housing Board, Land Transport Authority, National Environment Agency, National Parks Board and national water agency PUB.

From 2020 to 2022, they collectively handled 53 per cent of all feedback through the one-stop platform for reporting municipal issues, and took an average of between two and seven days to resolve these cases. Town councils handled another 44 per cent of feedback.

For complex cases, like those involving enforcement action, the agencies involved will come up with an action plan and indicative timeline to address the issues, said Senior Minister of State for National Development Sim Ann.

MPs must support healthcare workers who act against abuse

The Ministry of Health will support healthcare workers who need to take action against abuse and harassment, but it will take the backing of the entire community for the zero-tolerance policy against abuse to be effective, said Health Minister Ong.

Calling on MPs to show their support when the policy is translated into guidelines, he said the system would not work if abusers complain to their MPs or the Health Minister, and healthcare supervisors get reprimanded for bad service. “We will have to stand together on this, against the very small minority of abusers,” he added.

He said actions will be taken judiciously, and urgent care will still be delivered. But where the situation is not urgent, and the abuser is a visitor of a patient, there will be a “disengagement” process.