S'pore healthcare system open & honest with public, even when things go wrong, to build trust: PM Lee

PM Lee said the high levels of trust between the government and Singaporeans was a crucial factor in helping Singapore's pandemic response.

Low Jia Ying | April 24, 2022, 11:36 PM

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Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said the Singapore healthcare system was "upfront" when encountering problems and setbacks during the Covid-19 pandemic, so as not to lose the public's trust.

PM Lee was speaking at the Singapore General Hospital's Lecture and Formal Dinner today (Apr. 24), where he also reflected on Singapore's experience with Covid-19 and the lessons the country should learn.

Singapore was open and honest during the pandemic

For example, during the vaccination programme, the Ministry of Health regularly reported statistics on serious adverse events. PM Lee said:

"When there were errors in execution, and someone received the wrong vaccine or the wrong dose, we proactively investigated and explained to the public what had happened.

"Some may be tempted to think that it would have been easier to keep things quiet, and avoid causing unnecessary alarm with bad news. It would have been expedient, and convenient, but it would have been very unwise. If we kept quiet, it might work once, or twice. But rumours will spread, people will gradually lose faith in the system, and we will eventually pay a high price - the loss of public trust."

PM Lee said we should always be upfront when encountering problems and setbacks, and address them honestly and transparently.

"If we make a mistake - own up, take responsibility, and strive to put things right," he said.

Even though it may not be an easy thing to do, requiring courage, discipline and integrity, it is "absolutely essential" in strengthening public trust, especially in a crisis situation where stakes are high.

There was therefore a need to continue nurturing trust with the healthcare system in Singapore even in normal times, he said, by ensuring high standards of competency, transparency and commitment.

This would ensure that Singapore would have a "deep reservoir of trust" that can be drawn upon in the next crisis.

High-trust society helped Singaporeans "come together" in pandemic

PM Lee said the most crucial factor that helped Singapore's pandemic response was that Singapore enjoyed high levels of trust between the government and its people.

He said it is a most precious resource, and this was the "fundamental reason" for why Singaporeans were able to "come together this pandemic, instead of working against each other".

He cited how Singaporeans put up with the "burdensome" safe management measures, and went to get their Covid-19 vaccinations and booster shots as examples, exercising personal and social responsibility.

"In other countries, precautions as simple and essential as wearing a mask became a heated point of contention between citizens, in fact, between warring factions. Fortunately, in Singapore, the opposite happened," he said.

PM Lee said a big part of this is the public's trust of the healthcare system, founded on three reasons.

First, that healthcare workers in Singapore are professional and know their job well, and second, that they are committed to the well-being of patients, putting their patients first.

Third was transparency, that Singapore's healthcare system is "open and honest" with the public, even when things "fail to go as intended."

Singapore needs to "prepare seriously" for the next pandemic

PM Lee also said that Singapore must learn from the lessons that Covid-19 has taught, and that it "cannot thoughtlessly revert to the status quo ante" after this crisis.

He said that Singapore cannot let "valuable lessons, for which we have paid dearly, go to waste".

He then said that Singapore should "prepare seriously" for the next pandemic, which may well happen "within the next few decades."

This means that Singapore must maintain its high standards for medical excellence by investing in its healthcare workers, medical facilities and infrastructure, he said.

He added that Singapore should also develop its biomedical and scientific capabilities.

PM Lee also underscored the need to have more emphasis on public health to tackle future pandemics.

He added that we need to be able to understand how a new disease is spreading, make sense of disease trends, and devise models to assess and predict them, evaluate alternative public health measures, and devise non-medical measures that can help bring the outbreak under control.

"We must strengthen our skills in these areas, and high-quality public health input must inform policy-making," he said.

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Top photo via Prime Minister's Office/YouTube