Singapore making amendments to strengthen patient safety safeguards

Ren Jun Lim, principal with the IP tech practice of Baker McKenzie Wong & Liew in Singapore

To strengthen the safeguards for patient safety and welfare, the Singapore Ministry of Health has tabled several amendments to the Healthcare Services Act. Ren Jun Lim, principal with the IP tech practice of Baker McKenzie Wong & Liew in Singapore, guides us through the proposals

The Healthcare Services Bill was passed in the Singapore Parliament in 2020 to progressively replace the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (PHMCA). The Healthcare Services Act (HCSA) was intended to better safeguard patient safety and well-being while allowing the Ministry of Health (MOH) to adopt a more flexible approach in regulating and catering to the ever-changing healthcare landscape.

The regulatory regime under the HCSA is a services-based licensing regime, where healthcare service providers are/will be licensed based on the healthcare service provided, as opposed to the previous regulatory regime under the PHMCA, which was a premises-based licensing regime.

There are three phases to the implementation of the HSCA, with Phase 1 having come into effect in January 2022; and Phase 2 and Phase 3 coming into effect in June 2023 and by the end of 2023 respectively.

Proposed amendments to the HCSA

To enhance the robustness of the regulatory regime under the HCSA, and, in particular, to strengthen safeguards for patient safety and welfare, the MOH has proposed the following changes to the HCSA:

1 Advertising restrictions

When advertising, businesses that have not obtained licences under the HCSA for their healthcare services cannot claim to treat medical conditions or diseases

Non-registered healthcare professionals who use the title “Dr” in their advertisements must clearly state their qualifications and credentials to avoid misleading the public into thinking that the “Dr” is associated with the general medical practice

2 Restrictions on the use of specialty names in business names

Businesses licensed under the HCSA are prohibited from using terms associated with specialties in their business names if they do not employ such specialists

3 Regulation of different modes of healthcare service delivery

Given the different channels through which healthcare services may be provided, the MOH will introduce different modes of healthcare service delivery. For instance, a medical clinic can opt for ‘Permanent Premises’ for providing healthcare services at brick-and-mortar physical premises; ‘Temporary Premises’ for providing healthcare services via home visits or community site screenings; and ‘Remote’ for teleconsultations

4 Approval regime for specified services and appointment of clinical governance officers

An approval regime would be introduced for certain specified services, which include the provision of imaging modalities such as ultrasounds and x-rays

‘Clinical governance officers’ are one of the four key officeholders under the HCSA, who mainly assist the licensee in clinical governance and technical oversight of complex services

5 Refining the scope of employee background screening according to the degree of risk to patient safety and welfare

6 Removal of the 14-day notice requirement prior to modification of licensee conditions in certain circumstances

Under the current HCSA, the MOH must give notice to the licensee before modifying conditions of its licence and must allow the licensee at least 14 days after the date when the noticed is served to make written representations regarding the proposed modification

By removing the 14-day notice period, it allows the MOH to take immediate action to address urgent patient safety issues in certain special circumstances. For example, the MOH can require licensees to implement screening requirements for patients to mitigate the spread of infectious diseases like Covid-19

The proposed amendments are targeted to be implemented in June 2023. The MOH sought feedback from existing licensees, potential licensees and the public on the proposed amendments above.