The Ministry of Health (the "MOH") recently announced that the Healthcare Services Bill (the "Bill") is anticipated to be enacted later this year. With regard to the implementation of the Bill, the MOH intends to do so in three phases:
- Under Phase 1, which will commence from December 2019, medical and dental clinics under the existing law, i.e., the Private Hospitals and Medical Clinics Act (the "PHMCA"), will come within the ambit of the new legislation.
- Under Phase 2, which will commence from June 2020, all nursing homes and hospitals licensed under the PHMCA will come within the ambit of the new legislation.
- Under Phase 3, which will commence from December 2020, services previously not regulated under the PHMCA, e.g. sterile pharmaceutical services and telemedicine, will come within the ambit of the new legislation.
The Bill will set out the regulatory standards for providers of various healthcare services, for instance, radiation oncology, medical transport, and tissue banking.
This announcement came more than a year after the MOH stated that the existing healthcare services regulations are due for a refreshment. More information on this statement can be found in the October 2016 edition of our newsletter here.
Back in 2016, the PHMCA only covered services offered at physical healthcare facilities under several broad categories. The growing proliferation of chronic diseases and an ageing population made the need for new care models more pressing, therefore prompting the drafting of the Bill.
Under the Bill, all healthcare service providers will have to contribute to the National Electronic Health Record. This will allow providers to access patients' health records regardless of where patients seek treatment from, thereby reducing duplication and saving costs and time for patients.
In light of the privacy concerns arising from the introduction of the database, patients can opt out of the system, such that while their records would be uploaded into the system, providers would not be able to access them. Should the patients subsequently decide to opt in to the system, the information uploaded previously would be unlocked for providers to access. Another option that patients may choose is to not have their health records uploaded onto the database at all, though whether their requests will be accepted will be evaluated on a case-by-case basis. Patients should also be advised that if they were to opt back into the system subsequently, there will be permanent gaps in their records which could undermine future care. Also, it should be noted that all patients' records may only be accessed exclusively for patient-care purposes.
Under the new legislation, healthcare workers with records of having caused harm in a hospice, chronic sick unit or nursing home will be precluded from joining a healthcare institution which cares for vulnerable or frail groups.
Additionally, unsafe services and practices such as bio-identical hormone replacement therapy will be prohibited, and the Bill will publicise any provider's adoption of such practices. Further, new providers are barred from adopting terms such as "Singapore" or "national", which may imply an association or connection with a national body, unless they have procured explicit approval.
Finally, the Bill will aid the development and licensing of services, such as genetics screening and telemedicine. While traditional, complementary and alternative medicine, and allied health and non-physician healthcare will eventually come under the Bill's ambit, such services are not required to obtain licenses yet.
The public consultation for the Bill will be held from 5 January to 15 February 2018.
More details on the Bill and the public consultation can be found on the MOH's website here.