September 1, 2010

SINGAPORE: Growing need for community nurses as society ages

SINGAPORE / AsiaOne / Health / September 1, 2010

Such nurses provide essential medical support services to the elderly and their families. -AsiaOne

Ageing is an inescapable issue, particularly in a greying society such as Singapore's.

According to the 2010 Population Census, 9 per cent of Singapore's population of 5.08 million are aged 65 years and above. This figure is set to grow as life expectancies increase and less babies are born. In turn, this is creating a demand for community gerontological nurses.

Such nurses are specially trained to attend the medical needs of the elderly in their own homes. They visit their charges who may be homebound and unable to see the doctor on their own, and provide basic healthcare services such as changing the patient's feeding tube and monitoring his health condition.

In addition, community nurses also provide training and education to the elderly patient and his family and caregivers on how to prevent medical complications from developing.

Dr Harrison Bloom, a senior associate at International Longevity Center-USA (ILC-USA), was recently in Singapore to conduct a training course for community nurses on the topic "Building Capacity in Community Geriatric Care". The healthcare specialist told AsiaOne Health in an e-mail interview that these nurses play "a very significant role" in addressing the medical needs of older people living in the community. This in turn "can lead to better all-round care for older people, less hospitalisations - and likely less cost to the healthcare system - and improved quality of life for older patients and their caregivers."

However, Dr Bloom, who is also the director of ILC-USA's Clinical Education Consultation, noted that there is a lack of community nurses trained to care for older persons in their homes. Ms Fong Yoke Hiong, a senior nursing officer and trainer at Hua Mei Mobile Clinic of the Tsao Foundation, told AsiaOne Health that there exists a "negative image" of caring for the elderly which may discourage nurses from specialising in gerontological nursing.

Dr Harrison Bloom (far right) conducting a training course for community nurses at Hua Mei Training Centre.

Other disincentives include having to work alone in a tough environment with severely limited resources - while hospital nurses only take care of patients within the hospital environment and have a team of doctors and other medical staff to support them, community nurses often work alone. In comparison to hospital nurses, community nurses tend to receive less attractive remuneration.

There are also other challenges for community nurses. "There is little recognition for the good work that the community gerontological nurses have put in," said Ms Fong. "Training and education for these nurses are lacking. The needs of these nurses are neglected."

"If we want more older people to remain in the community and to age in place, the ministry needs to equip community nurses well in terms of knowledge, skills and attitude in order for them to serve efficiently and effectively," added Ms Fong.

The Hua Mei Training Centre, set up by the TSAO Foundation, conducts training for health professionals, volunteers and family caregivers on a wide range of topics concerning ageing. For more information, visit

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