[Brief] Is promoting medical tourism at odds with providing quality of life for Singaporeans?

Medical tourism has been a focus for STB (Singapore Tourism Board). At the same time, Singaporeans claim long waiting times in hospitals. A trade off between medical tourism and decent public healthcare has to be made now or in the near future.


According to data from a medical tourism index released last month, Singapore was ranked the most attractive among seven ASEAN countries in terms of “patient experience”, but was also one of the least attractive where costs were concerned.

This is may not be aligned to public feedback citing delays and long waiting periods at Singaporean public healthcare institutions. In several occasions, media reported patients having to wait for hours or have their beds positioned along walking corridors.

There are active policies developing medical tourism in Singapore. In 2012, there are about 850,000 medical tourists in Singapore which generated S$1.1 billion (US$1.4 billion) receipts and contributed 5% to the total tourism receipts. This is the peak among all disclosed data (2009-2014). In 2002, Ministry of Industry and Trade Singapore (MTI) stressed to prioritise local needs above economic development.

The promotion of medical tourism is factor stressing the already scarce medical resources in Singapore. Locals, foreigners and permanent residents compete for the same resources in public institutions. In addition, foreign tourists also compete for the same resources, albeit they pay non-subsidized rates. Some question if the medical ecosystem will succumb to the lure of profits. In this case, top medical officers will gravitate towards medical tourism rather than serving the needs of public health. While this is not unique globally, Singaporeans and locals will feel the pinch with increasing medical tourism.

In 2013, the Singapore Government published a white paper simulating a population of 10 million in Singapore. Over the last decade, Singaporeans struggled with a faltering public transport system which has now been quoted to have improved. Without coordinating planning, the pursuit of relentless medical tourism might impact the quality of life among locals – longer waiting times, decreasing quality of medical services, increasing costs leading to depleting funds for medical services.