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Speech by Minister Mohamad Maliki Bin Osman at the Inaugural Integrated Care Learning Symposium

Mr Richard Eu, Pro-Chancellor of SUSS
Professor Tan Tai Yong, President of SUSS
Distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen

1. Good morning. It's so nice to see so many familiar faces coming back to the sector where I started my professional career many years ago. There is so much we can talk about and so much we can share about the important topic we are discussing today. I really am honoured to be here today at this inaugural SUSS Integrated Care Learning Symposium.

2. I would like to congratulate SUSS and our healthcare and social sector partners for coming together to share experience and discuss critical issues in aged care as we face the challenges of a fast aging society.

Singapore’s ageing population and challenges faced by the elderly

3. As mentioned earlier by Tai Yong, Singapore is one of the fastest ageing countries in the world. By 2030, almost 1 in 4 citizens will be aged 65 and above. And I am sure all of us will be in that category one day and what we discussed today and at many other symposiums will impact what we do when we are in that category. Countries such as Japan and South Korea are already where we will be in 2030. We must acknowledge the demographic shifts that Singapore is experiencing. Our healthcare needs are becoming increasingly complex, accentuated by growing demands for strong social and support services albeit keeping costs affordable.

4. The challenges faced by the elderly can actually be looked in two broad groups. The first group are seniors who are healthy generally but as they grow older, more physical ailments start to set in. However, this group is generally able to cope as they have financial resources and are able to access social and family support, including government subsidies for their health care needs. Initiatives such as Age Well SG help to ensure that this demographic remains active and engaged, and as much as they can, delay onset of serious physical ailments for as long as possible. They can also participate in the activities organised by our Active Ageing Centres (AACs), such as communal meals, arts & crafts workshops and exercises. With the scaling up of our AACs from 154 to 220 by 2025, we can help our elderly age gracefully and remain socially connected with their community. For this group, one day, they may still need support for their physical ailments – including homebased care. There will be a growing need for more community-based care services to manage the demand for in-patient services in our acute and community hospitals.

5. The second group of elderly individuals face a different set of challenges. These are the seniors who may be suffering from mental health issues that are not immediately visible such as depression and dementia. According to the 2022 National Population Health Survey (NHPS) conducted by MOH and HPB, 10.5% of residents aged 60 to 74 suffer from poor mental health. Only 48.1% of residents in this age group were willing to seek help from healthcare professionals. Quite a sizeable number live alone or with their spouses only, and so many may be lacking in social or familial support and are at risk of being socially isolated, placing them at even greater risk of rapid cognitive decline. Given their weaker social support network, this group may not know how and where to reach out to, to address their mental health challenges. This group would include those living in private housing estates as there are lesser opportunities for social networking as their age progresses. And many of us assume that seniors who live in private estates can take care of themselves, but the reality is, they are also facing some of these real challenges.

6. While there is a greater awareness of mental health issues today, more can be done, especially mental health issues affecting our elderly. To effectively address this issue, we need more research and collaboration to understand the depth of these problems, their causes, and the most effective solutions. Who are the seniors at risk of social isolation? How can we ensure that they are reached out to earlier to prevent social isolation? Addressing these challenges requires a comprehensive approach encompassing physical and mental health. As we foster collaboration among healthcare providers, social service organisations and Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs), we should strive for solutions that emphasise the importance of providing social engagement for the elderly and ensure accessibility to community-based support networks. At the same time, we should also do more studies on the cultural manifestation of aging. This is one area that has not been studied sufficiently. In a multiracial society like Singapore, there is this aspect called the cultural manifestation of aging. Different communities age quite differently, and we need to understand how to respond to them effectively, because not everyone responds to aging in the same manner from a cultural perspective. So I think we need to study this more, and understand how their cultural nuances and worldview affect their way of aging.

Acknowledging SUSS and industry partners’ role in eldercare research and integrated healthcare

7. IHLs like SUSS play a pivotal role in integrated healthcare – through research and training of skilled manpower needed in the sector. SUSS's S R Nathan School of Human Development (NSHD) offers undergraduate, masters and PhD programmes in Social Work and Gerontology to equip students and aspiring healthcare professionals with the necessary skillsets to provide important social and psychological support for our aged population. Additionally, their applied research on gerontology provides a greater understanding of the gaps in eldercare and how community engagement across sectors can tackle them.

8. Today, we will witness a series of MOU signings between SUSS and seven key partners from our healthcare and social service sectors. It is my hope that these partnerships will precipitate research on the segments of our aged population that may be currently underserved or easily overlooked. Through these collaborations, we can gather the necessary information to develop evidence-based interventions and skillsets among health and social care partners that cater to the needs of both active elderly and those who are socially isolated and mentally vulnerable.

9. These efforts are aligned with the Government's Healthier SG initiative, focusing on preventive health and community partnerships. One of the strategies of this national initiative will see the three regional health clusters – National Healthcare Group (NHG), National University Health System (NUHS) and SingHealth, work towards developing integrated health and social ecosystems within their regions.

10. Let this Symposium also be an invitation to young adults and mid-career professionals to enter the field of integrated care. It is our collective responsibility to ensure our seniors are well-connected and engaged, receive the care they need, and where our communities are strengthened through intergenerational interaction. Your contribution to this endeavour can make a meaningful difference in the lives of those who have contributed so much to our society.

11. Once again, I congratulate SUSS on the launch of the Learning Symposium and express my appreciation to the partners who have contributed to this initiative. Thank you and have an enriching symposium.

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