Public hospitals in Singapore banned from using medical travel agents


Hospitals such as National University (NUH), Singapore General (SGH) and Changi General (CGH) Singapore, all had a long-standing practice of paying foreign agents to refer patients to public healthcare institutions.

Foreign patients did not get subsidies and could be charged a premium for procedures performed by senior doctors, so agents' fees, as a percentage of the total bill, could be very lucrative. The MOH says that public hospitals treated 10,900 foreign patients in 2017.

Following the MOH's instruction to end contracts, public healthcare institutions have also removed or blocked webpages containing information for overseas patients.

Amid an ageing population, the Singapore government is increasingly focused on ensuring that healthcare spending is kept affordable for citizens. The MOH has told public hospitals that they are no longer allowed to actively market themselves to foreign patients since the priority of public healthcare institutions must be to serve Singaporeans’ healthcare needs.

The Singapore Medical Council's medical ethics committee says that there is nothing wrong with public doctors treating foreigners. But foreign patients may pay more, and doctors need to ensure that this does not set up a financial incentive to favour such patients over subsidised ones.

The ban was originally made in 2018 but investigative journalists found that the practice continued. This time the MOH will be checking up and any offending hospitals will be punished if they still ignore the law.

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