Why Public (Govt.) Hospitals Are The Better Choice in Singapore

Why Public (Govt.) Hospitals Are The Better Choice in Singapore

Singapore has some of the best healthcare in the world. Which isn’t surprising, since most of us have diets that require it. Pass me that oyster omelette. Now hang on; I need to suck in my gut so I can reach the keyboard. Huff. In this article, I examine the difference between private and public hospitals in Singapore. And unlike most Singaporeans, I’m not doing it by comparing the kaya toast in the different food courts (SGH wins). Read on to find out which is more likely to save your wallet. Err, life:


The Public Hospital

Public hospitals are wholly owned by the government. Hence, they’re also referred to as “government hospitals”. Or in less fortunate countries, “that shed with the zinc roof”. Unlike those countries though, Singapore’s public hospitals are just as good as private ones. The secret?

Operation (pun intended) by private limited companies. The government has a “hands-off” approach to public hospitals’ day-to-day affairs. They license health care companies to run the hospital, and those companies are profit driven. Since words like “body count” tend to hurt profits, hospital operators are motivated to keep you alive.

Examples of these operators are the National Healthcare Group (NHG) and SingHealth. Hospitals under their banners include Alexandra Hospital, National University Hospital, and KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital.


KTPH hospital
“We’re running a special challenge. If you dare leap off the top floor, we’ll fix you for free.”


The Private Hospital

Private hospitals are owned and run as profit driven institutes. Just imagine businessmen who take the term “buying time” very literally.

Apart from some government regulation (e.g. no letting customers trade kidneys for iPads), private hospitals do as they will. There’s a prevailing belief that private hospitals offer better healthcare, because it’s more expensive. Hey, the same line works for Apple. The private healthcare scene is dominate by three names: Parkway Holdings, Pacific Healthcare Holdings, and Raffles Medical Group.

Examples of private hospitals are Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Gleneagles Hospital and Medical Centre, and Raffles Hospital.


Raffles Hospital Lobby
“Maybe some of our doctors got their degrees from a laser printer. But hey, we have the biggest lobby!”


And now, let’s look at why (in my opinion) public hospitals are better:

  • Public hospitals are subsidised
  • Wait times may not be longer
  • Quality of healthcare is comparable

1. Public Hospitals Are Subsidised

For Singapore citizens, public hospitals offer significant subsidies. Depending on the class of ward and the individual’s income, the subsidy ranges from 30% – 80%. I’d love to put it in a table that details your exact subsidy, but I’d get fired if this blog article is 3000 pages long. So, a quick overview:

  • Subsidies are for Class C to Class B2 wards
  • The higher your income, the lower your subsidy (means testing)
  • If you have no income, you automatically get the maximum subsidy
  • Children are subsidised based on the Annual Value (AV) of their guardians’ property
  • For the self-employed, subsidies are based on the IRAS report of your net income

Private hospitals don’t have these subsidies (and don’t have C Class wards anyway). For expatriates or foreigners, this doesn’t apply. But you should see point 4.


IV Drip bag
“It’s not for me, it’s for my bank account. My savings are on life support.”


An important note:

Your subsidy changes to match your current income. So if you get a serious illness and lose your job while hospitalized, your subsidy will change to match your situation. For this reason, choosing public hospitals is almost a no-brainer for the self-employed.


2. Wait Times May Not Be Longer

Because more people go to public hospitals, the wait times are (in theory) longer. Also, as of 2012, Singapore has 15 public hospitals and 21 private hospitals.

But there’s no guarantee that private hospitals are faster every time. For starters, hospitals all have patient priority issues. If someone’s about to have a stroke, then your broken leg is going to have to wait. Even if you’re in a private hospital. Since there’s always a chance priority patients will be jumping ahead of you (not literally I suspect), don’t bet on faster service.


Two people with surgical masks
“My daughter is 16. We made the appointment to see you because she was being born. So yeah, hell of a wait time.”


In public hospitals, the waiting time for a bed is up to three hours (maximum). There’s no statistics for private hospitals, but think about this: If you’re being hospitalized, don’t you need to round up your stuff anyway? There’s even the option to go home first and come back later.

And if you’re waiting for a hospital bed, you’re probably not participating in tonight’s One Fighting Championship. So what’s the damn hurry? Before forking out extra cash, ponder if waiting for a bed is such a big deal.


3. Quality of Healthcare is Comparable

This is not some third world country, where public hospitals are a prelude to cremation. Singapore’s healthcare ranks 6th in the world, and 1st in South East Asia (WHO report of 2010). We don’t permit half-assed hospitals, whether private or public.

So apply some basic financial sense. If you have two service providers, both with similar standards, what becomes the deciding factor? (Besides the food court. Stop thinking like a Singaporean for like, 10 seconds). Right, the answer is price. And while private hospitals do try to keep prices competitive, those subsidies usually mean they lose out.


Sick patient in bed
“Slap him around and wake him up. I want his customer feedback.”


Image Credits:
Adarsh Upadhyayscaredy_kat, J Y Architecture Photography, Jose Goulao, aenertia, Jose Goulao (last image), Fotos Gov/Ba

Do you prefer private or public healthcare? Comment and let us know!