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MOH seeking public feedback on new Healthcare Services Bill

THE Ministry of Health (MOH) is inviting public feedback on the draft Healthcare Services Bill from Jan 5 to Feb 15, with the Bill aimed at safeguarding patient safety and well-being in an evolving healthcare environment, the MOH said.

Presently, healthcare providers are licensed and regulated under the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA), which was last amended in 1999.

Singapore's ageing population and the growing incidence of chronic diseases have resulted in new care models. In addition, the advancements in technology are also catalysing the development of new healthcare services, some of which can be administered through mobile and online platforms.

Key features of the draft bill include broadening of the regulatory scope to cover healthcare services, nursing and allied health services, traditional medicine as well as complementary and alternative medicine. However, only healthcare services will be licensed at the moment. Professionals such as traditional Chinese medicine practitioners and physiotherapists will be regulated under existing Professional Acts.

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In addition, with new and emerging healthcare service models - such as telemedicine and mobile medical services - a services-based licensing framework is being proposed, compared to the current premises-based licensing.

The MOH will also strengthen governance and oversight of licensed healthcare services.

Where residential care services are concerned - this includes entities such as nursing homes and community hospitals - a step-in safeguard will be added to ensure patients continue to receive the care they need. This allows the MOH to temporarily take over providers who are failing, such as in the case of bankruptcy.

Meanwhile, all healthcare providers will be required to contribute to the National Electronic Health Record (NEHR) to enable better care coordination and continuity of care for patients across licensed healthcare providers. This will take place in phases, starting December 2019, up till December 2020.

If they wish, patients can opt out of the NEHR but will need to be made aware of potential repercussions. For example, care could be compromised in the case of emergencies.

Safeguards will also be put in place to ensure that patients' NEHR records are kept confidential; they cannot be accessed for purposes other than patient care, such as assessment for employment and insurance. Measures - including regular audits on NEHR access - will be implemented to guard against unauthorised access. In addition, penalties will be levied for the latter.

And to protect patient safety and welfare, the Healthcare Services Bill prohibits unsafe practices and authorises the ministry to obtain and publish information on non-compliant licensees and unlicensed providers. There will also be provisions to impose restrictions on licensees employing staff to work in healthcare services catering to the frail or vulnerable.

Between Jan 5 and Feb 15, the ministry will conduct consultation sessions with both stakeholders and members of the public, who can sign up for these sessions through www.HCSA.SG. In addition, feedback on the consultation paper and draft Bill can be offered on the REACH platform at www.reach.gov.sg.