Singapore serves as the healthcare and medical hub of the region drawing over 400,000 patients a year with its high-quality healthcare. It is considered one of the world’s leading medical travel destinations and its healthcare system is ranked sixth worldwide.
Singapore’s healthcare services are comparable to those of other industrialized economies. The government spends approximately 3.8% of GDP annually on healthcare. In the last year, it spent US$896 million and there are plans to raise this to US$1.37 billion a year in the next five years. In 2008, import of medical equipment and supplies to Singapore registered a 15% decrease from 2007. Total import from the United States was US$400 million, a 9% decrease from import figures for 2007. This is possibly due to the slowing global economy and buying cycles of major healthcare institutions. The United States, however, maintained its leading market share capturing 26% of the Singapore market.
Based on available trade figures for 2008 and market expectations for 2009, U.S exports of medical equipment to Singapore is expected to hold steady due to the nature of the healthcare industry, which is largely considered recession-proof. Given the cautious market sentiment, new products may find it more difficult to penetrate the market as distributors may shy away from investing too much on product launches and promotions. Overall, healthcare delivery in Singapore and the region is not expected to see too much of a decline as medical care is still considered a necessity. This should translate into a steady stream of transshipments through Singapore as the island-state is viewed as a major trade hub and launching pad for products into the region.
The Singapore Parliament passed the Health Products Act in February 2007 and medical devices was the first health product group to be regulated under the Act. Singapore’s Health Science Authority (HSA), through its Centre for Medical Devices Regulation (CMDR), will oversee the system of statutory control aimed to safeguard the quality, safety and efficacy of medical devices available in Singapore. By 2010, all medical devices – from high-risk stents for heart surgery to low-risk ones like mechanical wheelchairs – will need to be licensed.
According to the HSA, control measures will keep pace with global trends and standards and the agency will take into consideration the regulatory decisions of benchmark agencies like those of the U.S. Food & Drug Administration, the U.K. Medicines Control Agency, Therapeutic Goods Administration of Australia and the European Agency for the Evaluation of Medicinal Products.
The Singapore government is focused on moving up the healthcare value chain through the provision of services that assist research and healthcare delivery in Singapore and the region. Over the next few years, it will pump nearly a billion dollars into the biomedical sciences sector with the aim of boosting health-care standards and clinical research capabilities.
The challenge is to develop ‘bench to bedside’ research that will see this work make its way into mainstream medicine and benefit all Singaporeans. The government’s vision is to develop Singapore as the Healthcare Services Hub in Asia and projects that its share of the growing market will expand to 3% by 2012, achieving one million medical tourists per year.
Another pressing challenge is how Singapore will cope with an aging population. There is growing emphasis on living a healthy lifestyle with a focus on preventive care, and doing a better job of tackling chronic illnesses. U.S. firms with revolutionary or cutting-edge medical technology or focus on health screening and disease management would find Singapore an ideal place to sell their products.
Government hospitals account for 80% of the 11,830 hospital beds in Singapore. Singapore is renowned for its role as the healthcare hub for the region, treating patients from neighboring Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and more recently, from the United States, Britain, Japan, Seychelles, China, Hong Kong and Bangladesh.
Demand for medical equipment comes from public and private hospitals and clinics. The Health Ministry is the largest consumer, accounting for nearly 70% of local demand. Parkway Healthcare, the largest private sector healthcare provider in Singapore, is also a significant consumer of medical equipment. More than 80% of local demand is met through imports and there is a premium placed on American-made products, and U.S. manufacturers with revolutionary products will find Singapore a good market.
Most of the public sector hospitals have been extensively refurbished or totally rebuilt in recent years. New developments include a 550-bed, US$389 million public-sector general hospital in the north of Singapore. It is expected to be fully operational by 2010. Other plans include upgrading and expanding the facilities at the National Heart Centre, National University Hospital and Singapore General Hospital. There are also plans to build another two more public sector hospitals in the western and eastern parts of the country. The one in the west is expected to be completed before 2015 while the one in the east will be ready around 2018.
The private sector will see a new 350-bed hospital costing between US$207 and US$345 million built by 2011. This facility will cater mainly to foreign patients who demand high quality healthcare and services. A new 63 clinic medical center will be attached to the hospital.