An outpatient service that was set up in 1931 had evolved into a 24-hour Accident and Emergency (A&E) department by 1971. While national disasters usually involved the Singapore Civil Defence Force and Singapore Armed Forces, following the 1986 Hotel New World collapse, Singapore General Hospital emergency doctors took the lead to review and revise civil health services disaster plans for the nation.
Taking this lead meant that the hospital stood ready to deal with future crises such as the hijack of SQ117 in March 1991 and the crash of Flight SQ006 in Taiwan in October 2000. A Singapore General Hospital team was sent to attend to Singapore victims and supervise the repatriation of three severely burnt victims on board a plane that was akin to a "flying ICU". In 1992, a large passenger liner, the Royal Pacific, sank in the Straits of Malacca. Thirty people drowned and 61 casualties were evacuated to the hospital.
Other disasters included the extensive explosion and fire at Sembawang Shipyard (1992, 1994), Hilton Hotel fire (1993), MRT crash at Clementi (1993), the hijacking at sea (Laju hijack in 1974), and the chlorine gas leak at SAFRA (2005). Providing medical services at major events today – Formula 1 (from 2008), National Day Parades, and volunteer programmes for overseas reliefs -- underscores the hospital's evolution into the current high level of preparedness.
In other areas, SGH was designated Hotel One in VHF radio service's critical link-up with the A&E to Singapore Fire Services and ambulances. It became the first emergency department in 1978 to use CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation), and in 1984, emergency medicine was recognised as a distinct speciality by the Ministry of Health. This was followed in 1991 by an advanced specialist training programme for doctors, and an advanced diploma training in Emergency Nursing. Fast forward to 2010 when a residency programme is in place to ensure a continued pool of trained medical professionals in this field.
During the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, the doctors and staff at SGH showed their mettle once again by sweating it out under masks and full protective gear while screening hundreds of foreign workers at dormitories. They formed the phalanx of frontliners contributing to the national effort to contain the spread of the disease and keep Singaporeans safe.
"The Hospital's record is an important one within the wider context of the history of medical services in Singapore. Its development has been in tandem with the social, economic and political changes in the years. The advances and improvements in medical care through the decades can be even more highly appreciated when viewed against the backdrop of untold struggles with inadequate funds, manpower, facilities and equipment. That SGH has always overcome adversities and obstacles are reflective of the institution's character and resilience. This, in turn, is a testament of the devotion, dedication and tenacity of its people."
"From a humble shed to a premier medical institution and teaching hospital that Singaporeans can call their own – the changes have been momentous. But one thing I hope will remain the same. As doctors, nurses and caregivers, our challenge is to keep hope alive in our patients. We carry the torch of compassion, to treat our patients with the same respect and dignity that we expect ourselves."
Dr Kwa Soon Bee (b.1930 - d.2016)
Permanent Secretary for Health and Director of Medical Services, Ministry of Health (1984 - 1996) and Medical Superintendent/Director, SGH (1972 - 1983)Extracted from his reflections in The First General Hospital, a publication on the 175th anniversary of SGH.
After the war, the hospital underwent several phases of development. Ten medical complexes were constructed in the 1970s. Identified by large numerals on the sides of the functionally designed blocks, they have become recognised as SGH over the decades. Perhaps the most action was seen at Block 2, where the Accident and Emergency Department is. Due to the foresight and vision of Dr Kwa Soon Bee, then-Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Health, the department was designed with state-of-the art systems, including a rooftop helipad.
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