Turbulent events in the aftermath of the war and the road to
independence, such as the Maria Hertogh riots in December 1950 that left 18
dead and 173 injured persons, many of whom were sent to the Casualty Department
at the Outram Road General Hospital, led to the growth of emergency
medicine in Singapore. The Casualty Department also had to deal
with about two dozen casualties from the National Service Ordinance riots by
Chinese middle school students in 1954, and the Hock Lee bus riots in 1955. In March 1965, a
bomb blast occurred at MacDonald House in Orchard Road. 33 casualties were
taken to the Casualty Department of whom 7 were admitted. The Straits Times
reported that the hospital (the Emergency Unit) was crowded with people, many
of whom were friends and relatives of the injured. Many doctors and nurses had
been alerted and recalled for emergency duties. All these underscored the
need for an emergency department capable of dealing with a surge of casualties
in mass disaster.
A series of Sino-Malay riots occured in Singapore over two seperate periods in July and September 1964. The riot resulted in 12 dead at
scene and 461 injured, of whom 121 were admitted or died in hospital, all
or most of whom would have been treated in the General Hospital.
In the early days, the emergency department was staffed mainly by junior doctors and provided only limited investigations such as a basic x-ray. Training in Emergency Medicine began in SGH, and it was only in 1984 that Emergency Medicine became a recognised specialty in Singapore. With trained specialists and more advanced patient management capabilities, the quality of emergency care improved markedly, leading to more lives saved and other improved outcomes.
The collapse of the hotel in 1986 was Singapore’s worst civil disaster since the Spyros explosion. Thirty-three people died and 17 were rescued in the five-day inter-agency search and rescue. Hundreds went to SGH in response to calls for blood donations. The helipad atop Block 1, was instrumental in aiding the transfer of victims quickly from the accident site to SGH.
Caring for the injured... even as victims of the Hotel New World disaster were rushed to hospitals, staff from SGH provided immediate care at the site too.
As it had in the wake of the Spyros disaster, the A&E Department at SGH played an instrumental part coordinating the medical field teams and determining the supplies needed. The massive rescue effort was the combined contribution by the Singapore Joint Civil Defence Force, the Singapore Red Cross and SGH.
As the flagship emergency service of the nation, the SGH emergency department was entrusted with the role of providing medical support for key national and international events in Singapore, such as the World Trade Organization meetings back in December 1996, the Formula 1 race since 2008 and the Trump-Kim Summit in 2018. In this role, SGH coordinates teams of volunteers among doctors and other healthcare professionals from all hospitals to ensure emergency services are available for the delegates and the general public. Till today, the SGH emergency medicine department has pushed ahead to improve emergency care for patients.
The Japanese occupation forces took over the General Hospital for use by their troops in Southeast Asia.
However, the disruption from the war brought about a paradigm shift in the local medical community. With the expatriate doctors interned by the Japanese during the war, local doctors and staff assumed full responsibility in running the hospitals that continued to serve the locals. They proved themselves capable and became aware of the imperative need to unify the medical service with equal treatment of local and colonial doctors posted from Britain and India.
Just five years after gaining independence, Singapore was actively exploring avenues of economic development to ensure its sustainability. Initiatives were underway to make Singapore a liveable city, and healthcare systems and services had to keep pace with modern advances across the globe.
As the country was gripped by events like Konfrontasi, the Maria Hertogh riots, the Pulau Senang prison riot and the Hock Lee Bus protests, SGH continued to treat their respective victims.
SGH has undergone numerous transformations since its establishment nearly 200 years ago to keep up with the needs of Singaporeans. The iconic Bowyer Block, a National Monument in recognition of its national significance and rich history, is a standing reminder of how far we have come in advancing patient care.
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