The story of SGH mirrors historical events in Singapore. While providing public healthcare has always been its core function, it has always responded to support the nation during its moments of great need and crisis.
In the tumultuous years leading up to independence in 1965, Singapore experienced unrest such as the Maria Hertogh race riots, Hock Lee Bus strike and riots and Konfrontasi (or Confrontation) with Indonesia, which conducted military operations in Singapore and Malaysia, in objection to the formation of Malaysia. SGH treated the victims from these incidents which resulted in deaths and injuries.
The hospital also took on the urgent task of conducting mandatory medical checks on new recruits for the nascent National Service, when compulsory conscription of male youths was introduced to quickly build Singapore’s defence force.
As the nation’s flagship hospital, SGH has always played an important role in responding to mass casualty incidents, national and regional disasters. Its Emergency Department had just opened in 1977, when it saw victims from the Spyros oil tanker explosion in 1978. It also managed the trauma victims from the Hotel New World building collapse in 1986. SGH has also constantly played a humanitarian role in the region such as responding to the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.
Dr Kwa Soon BeePermanent Secretary for Health (1984-1996) & Superintendent, Medical Services, SGH (1972)Extracted from his reflections in The First General Hospital, a publication on the 175th anniversary of SGH
Covid-19 pandemic brought on unprecedented onslaughts, not just for SGH, but for healthcare globally. SGH swiftly established a COVID19 Taskforce to direct hospital attempts to contain the infection.
On the 5th of Feb 2015, Lee Kuan Yew was admitted into the Singapore General Hospital for severe pneumonia.
The collapse Hotel New World 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.
SGH has always played an important role in responding to mass casualty incidents and national disasters. SGH built on the experience to establish the SGH Burns Centre to become a centre of excellence that serves patients not just from Singapore but countries in the surrounding region.
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.