A reporter asked me whether being the Minister-in-Charge of Ageing Issues was an additional ECA (Extra Curricular Activity) for me. I said that it was not an “ECA” but a “CCA” (Co Curricular Activity)!
Indeed, an ageing population will be a major force shaping our society over the next one or two decades. We will see about 400,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 years old between now and 2020. However, the bulk of Baby Boomers, or about 600,000 people, will turn 65 years old between 2020 and 2030. 600,000 people today is equivalent to about the size of Ang Mo Kio, Choa Chu Kang, Toa Payoh, and Yishun taken together!
Over the past few years, we have been promoting active ageing. However, increasingly, we will also have to think about caring for our seniors who fall ill or may end up with functional disabilities. An ageing population will mean a higher need for both acute care in hospitals, as well as longer term care in nursing homes and other community facilities. Many of the voluntary welfare organisations I meet tell me that they have to move from providing social day care for seniors to providing rehabilitative and other healthcare-related services because our seniors have aged over the past decade or so, and are getting more frail.
We estimate that by 2030, there will be 117,000 seniors who are semi-ambulant or non-ambulant, more than 2.5 times that of today. And the impact goes beyond healthcare. We could see more than 80,000 seniors living alone, some of whom could also have health needs. How do we care for and engage our seniors? How do we make sure that the living environment within our city is one that encourages our seniors to be part of the community and not apart?
In my mind, there are three immediate challenges:
- First, we need to ensure that the capacity of our aged care infrastructure is able to meet the needs by 2020 and beyond.
- Second, we need to enhance the quality of care services, both in terms of increasing the care options that seniors have, as well as enhancing the level of care services.
- Third, we need to ensure that seniors and their caregivers can afford these care services.
The ramp up in aged care services is more easily said than done. We need a concerted effort across the aged care sector and beyond. We will need additional resources, not just financial, but manpower with the right skills and in the right numbers. We will also need to tap on the expertise of social service professionals and healthcare professionals to create and deliver better and new forms of care, that not only address the functional, but the psycho-emotional and social needs of our seniors. Singaporeans must accept the need for more aged care facilities to be developed across the island, and in locations within our HDB heartlands so that they are easily accessible.
The challenges are huge but not insurmountable. In the past months, I have visited many seniors activity centres, rehabilitative centres, nursing homes and hospitals. The passion among staff and volunteers within the aged care sector is our most valuable asset.
Together with my colleagues from the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, I hosted a dialogue session today with the leaders of the various organisations providing aged care. We wanted to share our plans to scale up aged care services, and hear their views on what we can do to achieve an expansion in aged care services and how we can enhance the quality of care for seniors. There was no lack of bold and innovative thinking among professionals within our aged care sector. During the dialogue, many useful comments and ideas were raised as to how we can work together to address the issues of manpower, financing, and care integration. Some also shared with us their thoughts on how best practices in other countries can be applied here. We will study the suggestions that were raised very seriously. Their views, ideas and suggestions will form a critical part of the plans and policies that the government will put in place to prepare Singapore to meet the needs of an ageing population in the years ahead.
Our seniors today and tomorrow should be able to age gracefully and with dignity as an integral part of our society. They should have the option to be cared for with love from their families and the community. That, I think, is the purpose we all share.