Singapore in Drive to Boost Foreign Healthcare

SINGAPORE ~ Singapore is working to draw more foreign patients from outside of Southeast Asia to bolster its role as a top provider of quality healthcare services in the region, its health minister said this week.

Khaw Boon Wan said in parliament that efforts to woo foreign patients from new markets such as Russia and the Middle East were already yielding significant success but he gave no figures.

He said almost 400,000 foreign patients flew to the city-state in 2006 to seek medical treatment, out of which two-thirds came from Southeast Asia.

“We have begun to reach out to non-ASEAN countries with encouraging results,” Khaw said. ASEAN is the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

“There is a growing trend in patients arriving from further afield, including Russia, Bangladesh and the Middle East. These are new markets with significant potential,” he said.

Singapore’s long-term target is to attract one million foreign patients by 2012 and the government will do its part to make sure infrastructure is in place to cope with more overseas demand without neglecting locals.

“To tap these opportunities, we need to increase our capacity, especially in manpower and hospital beds,” Khaw said.

“We also need to raise our clinical capabilities and service standard so as to justify our higher cost premium. We will continue to push these efforts without undermining the services to our local patients.”

Singapore would also need at least one or two new private hospitals to meet the increased demand from foreign patients, Khaw said.

He added that his ministry was working with the Urban Redevelopment Authority, the national land use planning agency, on releasing sites to build new hospitals.

Singapore wants to be a leading medical service provider in Asia.

But it faces stiff competition, mainly from Thailand, which is also aggressively working on becoming the destination of choice for foreign visitors seeking affordable, quality medical care.

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