Saturday, April 28, 2012

8th maid falls to death in less than 4 months: Action needed now!

Dear Friends,

Another Indonesian maid has  fallen to her death whilst cleaning her employer’s dirty windows! (click here)

This is the eighth death this year!

When I wrote the previous blog post ( here)  which was printed ( albeit with some amendments at the ST Forum) (here),  I thought silently to myself that I was perhaps overdramatic and had over-exaggerated the scale of the problem.

But apparently not. Those 7 deaths had not been dramatic enough and more will die needlessly.

If  our dear authorities will just continue to sit on its hands, tweedle its thumbs and do nothing , I am going to suggest that maids’ home embassies ie Embassies of the Republic of Indonesia and The Phillippines  should insist that their nationals not be put in harm’s way and die for a speck of dirt on the window!

MOM, HDB and MND- do more than just talk!

Your talk about educating the maids and their employers is not effective as the maids are unable to reject pressures from employers who hold the purse strings. Furthermore, the news about these deaths are not passed down to the people that matters i.e the maids and the elderly folks, the people who are at home when the maids are doing the cleaning. The maids and elderly folks do NOT read the Straits Times or the LianHeZaoBao!

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stop the epidemic of falling maids now!

Dear Friends,
I just read the Straits Times and realised Minister of State ( Community Development, Youth and Sports) has advocated the same thing!
For the records, I had submitted the letter below to the Forum over the weekend before Mdm Halimah said anything about this. It does not matter-just stop the carnage!
Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

The letter to the Forum pages
Addendum (26.4.12): My letter printed in the ST Forum ( with some editing) here .
Dear Editor

Stop the epidemic of falling maids now!
There is an epidemic of falling maids!

Seven foreign domestic workers (FDWs) have died in less than 4 months of this year (2012) alone, mostly after falling from heights whilst cleaning windows.

These women, many from remote villages in Indonesia or the Philippines, work for meager wages so that at the end of their contracts, their families can have a chance of escaping the poverty trap back home.

However the 7 this year and numerous others in previous years, have sacrificed their lives needlessly for some speck of dirt on their employers’ glass windows.

It is obvious to most that Ministry of Manpower’s (MOM) actions have fallen on deaf ears and have been ineffective so far.

Drastic problems require drastic and sometimes seemingly ridiculous solutions.

I propose the following short and long-term solutions.

Short-term solutions:
1.  Immediate ban on cleaning of the outside of windows in all apartments/flats by maids. Flouting of this ban should attract stiff penalties.
2.  HDB (Town councils) or Management corporations ( for private apartments) will make arrangement for professional window cleaners, who are equipped with “gandolas” etc, to clean these windows for a small fee per household. 
Long-term solutions:
1.  Developers (of private and public housing projects) should be incentivized to install windows that can be pivoted so that no-one needs to stretch precariously to clean any parts of windows.
2.   The hanging of clothes on bamboo poles outside the apartments should finally be done away with (as in most private apartments now where laundries are hung at designated washing areas inside). These are unsightly and ,of course, dangerous.

Some cynics will say that a handful of deaths (out of about 150000 FDW’s) is statistically not really alarming and to inconvenience many households just to save a few lives may not be logical.

However, I feel that this is a small price for all of us to pay as even one unnecessary FDW death is one death too many.

MOM, MND and HDB please do something about it now.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

"That used to be us" -Why I speak out against excessive bureaucracy

Dear Friends,

Bureaucracy could be useful when there is chaos and it  helps bring order to how society works.

However too much of it could adversely affect our competitiveness and increase cost of service delivery ( in my case for healthcare).

Straits Times Health journalist Salma Khalik (Has HSA bitten off more than it can chew? click here)
 has very succinctly encapsulated why I am particularly disturbed by excessive regulation.
To put things in perspective, not every doctor agrees with my views about this issue.

Blogger gigamole ( whom I presume is a female doctor) (click here)  thinks what HSA does is right and that some doctors ( and journalists who have their own agenda) are giving HSA a hard time that it does’t deserve. Anyway, to each her own.

In fact, the medical community is very small and we know each other. I know Prof John Lim ( CEO HSA) well and bears him no ill-will. Prof John Wong is also an eminent doctor and is a friend of a friend etc. I wish I could just close my eyes and everything will sort itself out but the world does not work like that, sigh!

The letter that I wrote to the forum ( yah- it was only published in the online version  only,sob!) partly reveals why I feel that if I keep quiet about this matter, Singapore is the worse for it . Okay- there is a narcissist somewhere inside me trying to break out.

Here goes

The original letter and the letter published in ST Forum (click here)

If we allow bureaucracy to stifle our competitiveness, we might only be able to say “That used to be us”

Dear Editor,

Three-time Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman and world-renowned foreign affair expert Michael Mandebaum, wrote a book entitled “That used to be us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back”. The title was actually quoted from President Barack Obama who when comparing advances in China and Singapore to those in America remarked, “ That used to be us”.

Singapore is mentioned favorably several times in this must-read book for all America-watchers.

I have on several occasions (perhaps more than I should), boasted to many foreign friends that Singapore works due to its emphasis on efficiency and minimised bureaucracy. I would cite how I had literally gone to the Immigration and Checkpoint Authority and collected my new passport in less than 10 minutes flat and that when the Singapore Power technician has an appointment to turn on the water/utilities, he keeps the time (give or take half hour). This usually holds true for many corporate entities also.

Coincidentally, I was sharing with someone not too long ago that in my chosen profession of Medicine, we are always at the cutting edge and almost always the first to be able to use medical devices, often ahead of most parts of Asia and even Australasia. Granted, it is not always advantageous to be early adopters, but my experience has been that if these devices are cleared by major overseas agencies, such as FDA and Europe’s CE, safety is almost always assured.

Hence, when my doctor friends discovered that this would no longer be possible, we had no choice but to feedback to the proper authorities. Many of us sincerely feel that unless HSA is willing to make substantial changes to the way it functions, Singapore, not just the medical profession, would be the loser.

Are we willing to exchange efficiency for bureaucracy?

We are renowned for our nimbleness and ability to adapt at a moment’s notice, can we afford to behave like a super-tanker that takes miles to turn around?

Over the past decades, our healthcare system had been built painstakingly with the support of the manufacturers and distributors of medical devices, it would be a real pity if all we can do is to say some time in the future, “That used to be us!”, when we see neighboring healthcare systems overtake us, one by one.

Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan

Sunday, April 08, 2012

Doctors like me are upset about HSA's medical device regulation... why?

Sunday Times 8th April 2012


They have met privately, written to their professional bodies, blogged, and gathered to tell the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) what they think of the tightened regulation of medical devices in force here since the beginning of the year.

The bottom line is that private specialist doctors think it takes too long, costs too much and requires far too much paperwork to get medical devices cleared for use.

Despite meetings with HSA officials, including one with about 50 at Gleneagles Hospital last month, the doctors say their difficulties have not yet been resolved.

Their work has been affected, because some doctors have run out of supplies of some items their patients need.

Read digital version here ( must pay- I think) or buy the Sunday Times.

Dear Friends,

I have blogged about this issue here

Straits Times/Sunday Times health correspondent,Salma Khalik, interviewed me for the above story.

Despite advice to the contrary, I feel that many reporters working in Singapore’s “controlled” environment try to do the “right thing” and airing the doctors’ point of view over the Mainstream media (MSM) will ultimately help our patients. Of course, we know Singapore’s SPH and Mediacorps is a duopoly of mega-proportions and this decision is made on political grounds (as the PAP believes a fully independent media is not conducive to their type of rule -to put it mildly).

If you read the whole article ( sorry- I only have the free and hence incomplete version), the HSA says it is trying to engage the doctors. I am wary of engaging them now as I do not want a “half-measure” solution that only postpones the problem while our SME vendors are dying day by day ( like a death of a thousand cuts).

With my hand on heart, I sincerely feel that wrong policies should be rescinded or at least severely altered. That means in the least,medial devices that have been cleared by USA’s FDA need not need registration and the doctors or vendors bear responsibility when we use them. Period.

Let us get the entrepreneurship amongst the vendors going again… for the sakes of all our patients.


Dr Huang Shoou Chyuan