Singapore's medical tourism figures revealed by health minister

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Speaking in Parliament last week, Health Minister Khaw Boon Wan revealed statistics for the medical tourism sector of Singapore. Mr Khaw informed that the number of medical tourists is estimated by the Singapore Tourism Board (STB) using exit surveys at Changi Airport. For year 2007 (the last year for which figures are available), there were 348,000 medical tourists. This was 15% less than the previous year, 2006 (410,000). While tourist numbers dropped, the dollar value expenditure went up to $1.7 billion (+30%) over that period.

In response to Member of Parliament (MP) Dr Lam Pin Min, Mr Khaw admitted that the 2012 target of 1 million medical tourists would be a challenge to meet in view of the global economic downturn. The Health Minister said that despite the expected difficulties, the medical hub strategy remains and Singapore will compete with other regional centres on skills and beneficial outcomes rather than merely on costs. As such, plans to expand capacity and specialist manpower will continue.

On Dr Lam's concern that hospital resources allocated to Singaporeans might be compromised due to competing needs from medical tourism, Minister Khaw said that the number of such patients for public hospitals made up 1% of total patient load there. He reiterated that the priority of public hospitals will always be on Singaporeans, and that public hospitals do not “chase” after these potential foreign patients.

As for Singaporeans going overseas for medical care, Mr Khaw said that the Health Ministry does not track the numbers.