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Rooted in Excellence: Speech by Prof Kenneth Kwek

Speech by Chief Executive Officer Prof Kenneth Kwek, Singapore General Hospital


SGH Bicentennial Garden, 29 March 2021


Good afternoon,

Mr Heng Swee Keat, Deputy Prime Minister, Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies and Minister for Finance,

Mr Gan Kim Yong, Minister for Health,

Dr Janil Puthucheary, Senior Minister of State for Health,

Mr Peter Seah, Chairman of SingHealth Board of Directors,

Professor Ivy Ng, Group CEO of SingHealth,

Mr Khaw Boon Wan, Former CEO of SGH

Distinguished guests,

Friends and colleagues here in the SGH Museum as well as the Bicentennial Garden, and across the zoom space.

Thank you very much for taking time out to join us on this very special day.


This year marks the Bicentennial of the Singapore General Hospital. Our history can be traced back to humble beginnings in 1821. The hospital relocated several times and finally settled at Sepoy Lines in Outram Road, in 1882.

Today, the date 29th of March holds very special significance as well. Ninety-five years ago, on this very day in 1926, the Governor of the Straits Settlement, Sir Lawrence Guillemard officially opened a new general hospital. That new hospital comprised three main blocks with majestic columns, housing 800 beds, and we are now standing in the one remaining block, the iconic Bowyer Block. The Bowyer Block Clock Tower has stood for years as the song says, over almost a century. Our silent sentinel, watching over the progress made by SGH. Fittingly, the Bowyer Block Clock Tower was gazetted as a national monument in 2009 and we are privileged that the Preservation of Sites and Monuments under the National Heritage Board has helped us create this beautiful Museum today. This museum will be officially opened later this year.

Where the Garden now sits behind us, was previously a wing of the Bowyer Block which housed wards on the upper floors, and on the ground floor, was office of the Medical Superintendent. As the current SGH developed, this space was converted into a carpark. Given the development of the campus, with more basement carparks being built, we decided to take the opportunity to convert the carpark into a green lawn for the campus and we partnered with NParks, as part of the One Million Trees Movement to develop this Bicentennial Garden which we are officially opening today. If it wasn’t for the weather, most of this would be outside, but we are grateful that we are able to be here together in the museum. And we are really grateful for the tremendous partnership and support from NParks. SGH has a botanical tradition as well and as part of that tradition, we actually have our own orchid, the Dendrobium SGH, and today, each of the guest will receive one pot of the orchid after the event.

We are privileged to have a home that contains such a rich history. And on these historic grounds, we sank deep roots. These roots were nourished by generations of colleagues, leaders and supporters. Today, across the SingHealth family, we have national centers of excellence; the Singapore National Eye Centre, the National Heart Centre of Singapore, the National Cancer Centre of Singapore, the National Neuroscience Institute and the National Dental Centre Singapore. Together, we provide the depth and width of clinical expertise to cater to the needs for Singapore’s healthcare.

At its core, SGH has always provided clinical care and emergency medical response. This Campus was also the seat of the first medical school in Singapore, which was established in 1905; and exactly 100 years later in 2005, it was also where the first Graduate Medical School, Duke-NUS, had taken root. And, it is here that many generations of healthcare professionals were trained for Singapore.

Over the past few years, we have attempted to distil and find out what were these core building blocks and attributes which defined and continue to define SGH. These are Purpose, Passion, Courage and Grit.


The Purpose of SGH is to provide outstanding care for our patients, and to be a refuge of care and hope.

We have remained steadfast in that purpose for the past 200 years, as we journeyed with Singapore through good and tough times,

We want to be the best for our patients. We want our patients to have the best experience when they come to SGH. We must be among the best in the world to provide our patients with outstanding care. It is not a competition, it is not about rankings. It is just that our patients deserve nothing less.

We believe that our patients, regardless of their station in society, should have access to excellent care that matters most to them. We are driven to make the world a better place by advancing health, to make a difference in the lives of our patients and our community.


Passion is another trait that defines SGH.

This passion was evident in the generations who came before us. And this passion continues to burn deeply within all of us today. We built on the firm foundations laid over two centuries, standing on the shoulders of our giants. And some of the giants, our pillars of strength are recognised in a segment of the museum that we will see later. What SGH has achieved did not happen by chance. It is the result of visionary and dedicated leaders and colleagues, anchored by a strong moral compass and a steadfast commitment to our purpose and values.

Today, we are reaping the fruits from the trees that were planted by those who came before us. And we must do the same for those who will come after us. The trees we plant today, symbolise the laying of roots for future growth and development.


It is said that courage is not the absence of fear but acting despite the fear. And our colleagues in SGH have demonstrated great courage time and again throughout. In the face of great adversity and uncertainty, they battled through flu pandemics way back in 1918 and 1957, the Spyros disaster, through SARS, and now, as we battle Covid-19.

During the 1918 pandemic, there were only 19 nurses in the hospital and during the pandemic, 12 of them came down with the Spanish flu. Yet together they carried on, and persevered.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit, naturally there was fear amidst great uncertainty. In the initial days, very little was known about this new virus, about how it transmits, how serious it would be, what treatments were available. Having experienced SARS, our team expected the worst. But it did not deter us. We overcame our fears, trusted in our training and trusted in each other, and everyone came to work every day without fail to take care of our patients.

We saw that Courage in our people – our nurses, our doctors, our allied health professionals, our Operations team, our Security team, administrative colleagues, our service partners – all our colleagues. When we asked for volunteers to reinforce our Emergency Department, to go into the fever zones, to man the external operations in the dormitories or isolation facilities housing Covid-19 patients, so many stepped forward from all domains across SGH and across SingHealth. We all wanted to be able to serve our patients and our nation. And we are all so proud to work everyday with such tremendous colleagues every day.


Our people have grit, the tenacity to hang on and keep going, even when the going is tough.

We have weathered many storms in our long history. Each time, we pick up the pieces and learn to be better. From SARS, we learned, and were better prepared for a pandemic when Covid-19 reached us. From the Spyros explosion in 1978, we developed protocols for mass casualty incidents and built the SGH Burns Centre which caters to burns victims today for the entire region. As it was said in the song, we continue to learn and care and grow.


Our people have given much of themselves, but at the same time, we have gained so much. Our patients, their families, they are all our heroes. We are grateful and humbled by our patients’ trust in us. It is a true privilege to be able to provide care.

We are also grateful to the larger community for their support, which was brought home even more so than ever during this pandemic.

In appreciation of our patients and the rest of Singapore, we are starting a One Kind Act movement here in SGH. Each of us shall endeavor to do One Kind Act every day, large or small, for another person, to give back. It is also to remind us that we are privileged, to care for, and to have the trust of our patients.


As the nation’s flagship hospital, we are committed to caring for the nation. Over the years, we have constantly introduced new procedures, improved equipment, enhanced processes and started new services. We also learned from everybody and adapted these learnings to suit our context. We must continue to conduct cutting-edge research and innovate to meet the evolving needs, to provide new and better care.

It is now up to us, the current and future generations in SGH, to plan and design the new SGH that will be built on this Campus. What will the future SGH be like, in the next 50, 100, 200 years? We have the responsibility, the opportunity and the capability to continue this legacy.

Covid-19 has shaken up the norm and created the impetus for us to do things differently, and better. It has accelerated the pace of change, and shown us new possibilities as we adopt new ways to work, new ways to live and indeed new ways to care.

Opportunity is all around us, as we develop this Campus under the Campus Masterplan.

True to the "can do" spirit of SGH, we continue to reimagine and define tomorrow’s medicine, so that we continue to be the beacon of hope as the song says, a true beacon in the storm, for Singapore.

We have come this far because of all of you. Thank you for believing in us, supporting us, and for writing the SGH story with us. Let us write the next chapter for SGH together. THANK YOU