Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to the press -Allow part-time maids so families can cope better

Caring for an elderly relative involves lots of sacrifices and commitment. Yet, support measures to help ease their struggles are lacking. The task is more daunting for carers of the mentally ill.

My letter to MediaCorp's TODAY newspaper gets published today, Wed 30th April  2014.

After my wife’s knee surgery last year, her doctors at the rehabilitation hospital recommended that I secure a part-time maid, as they were concerned that I would continue to suffer burn-out. Despite several appeal letters sent to government agencies, including the Ministry of Manpower, all failed to respond.
During the period when my wife was alive — she died in the hospital recently — I had to take care of her multiple needs single-handedly. It was no easy task as she had mobility problems because of her advanced arthritis.

A part-time maid could have helped and I am sure there are others in such a predicament.
As it is now mandatory to give foreign domestic workers a weekly rest day, provision for part-time maids would help families who require such services seven days a week.

Also, when foreign domestic workers go on home leave every year or biyearly for two weeks or a month, working parents would take leave to care for their young children, which would disrupt work at the office.

With the introduction of a part-time maid scheme, there would be less of a scramble to find alternative child-minders. It may even pave the way for more young married couples to have more children.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Letter to The Straits Times: Allow service in non-military organisations

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published on Monday 21st  April 2014.

Senior writer Andy Ho’s suggestion (“Exempt these young men from NS”; last Sunday) makes sense.

Schizophrenia is a complex brain disorder that is very difficult to manage. Those who are in regular contact with patients grappling with mental health issues need in-depth knowledge of the illnesses, so they can help in the patients’ rehabilitation and recovery.

The environment plays an important role in helping a person cope with schizophrenia. Strong emotional support from family members, the community and employers is also helpful.
Unfortunately, people know less about mental illnesses than they think they do. This was the case with Private Ganesh Pillay Magindren’s camp supervisor.

It is timely for the Ministry of Defence to review its policy on national service for those with serious mental illnesses. Those with such conditions should be allowed to fulfil their NS obligations in non-military organisations, where their skills can be better utilised.

For example, those who are artistically inclined like Pte Ganesh could serve in agencies like the National Arts Council, which could be a win-win situation for both parties.

Raymond Anthony Fernando



Monday, April 14, 2014

Letter to The New Paper (TNP): Death of NSF- Supervisor’s knowledge could have saved private’s life

My letter to The New Paper on the above issue is published today, Monday 14th April 2014.
Read on:

Clearly the lack of understanding of schizophrenia and the poor coordination within the Singapore Armed Forces were factors in the death of the young man for whom his father had big plans.

 I fully agree with State Coroner Imran Abdul Hamid that the 14 charges of extra duties would have been a daunting prospect – even for a soldier without any mental issues. 

It was also shocking that the supervising officer did not even know what schizophrenia meant.  I am sure if she had bothered to learn more about it, Pte Ganesh Pillay Magindren could have been better managed – he was responding well with medications under his parent’s supervision.

All military officers should be equipped with a better knowledge of brain disorders, through training by psychiatrists, experience caregivers and recovered patients. 

And perhaps those at risks should be allowed to serve national service in non-military organisations where their skills and creativity can be better utilised, such as in the National Arts Council.



Friday, April 11, 2014

Show more compassion to those who are marginalised

It must be a daunting task for sole breadwinner, Mr Lai Peng Nan to have to take care of 3 mentally-disabled family members as reported in “Who’ll look after them when I die” (The New Paper, March 22). 

Managing one mentally ill family member is so taxing, what more looking after 3 relatives with this condition. But I have the utmost respect for this man for having the courage and conviction to care for his wife and two children for decades. However, Mr Lai’s worries of the plight of his loved ones upon his death are valid concerns which many caregivers have sleepless nights over.

While the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) has provided financial assistance, more needs to be done to ease the suffering of caregivers in this predicament.   While, it may not be the objective of MSF to institutionalise the mentally ill, what choice does Mr Lai have?  The challenges facing persons with mental illness and complex and multi dimensional, but given that we are seeing more and more of such cases, it will be better to plan ahead and build more psychiatric homes where specialised care can be given.

I was also saddened that an ex-convict had his rental flat abruptly taken away from him in the report, “From prison to public toilet” (The New Paper, March 24).

Even though the HDB is within its power to take away the flat, couldn’t they have exercise some flexibility given that 68-year-old Mr. Kuu Siau Lam had served his prison sentence?  Why deprive him of a home and take way his electrical appliances, including his power tools which he uses to earn a living as a carpenter?  The primary objective of the Yellow Ribbon Project is to give ex-offenders a second chance in life and help them re-integrate into the community.  However, if they are not given this opportunity, there is every likelyhood that they can go back to crime.  So why isn’t Mr Kuu being given a second chance to rebuild his life?



Build trust by seeking widespread consultations for government policies

I agree with Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam that the public’s trust in a new and more challenging environment is going to get more complex with competing interests and rising expectations in the report, “Tharman: Three things that will retain public trust  (The New Paper, March 27).

DPM Tharman’s call for the civil service to make sure that polices take into account feedback on the ground for the people’s wellbeing, is encouraging.

In order for civil servants to fully understand the concerns of our citizens, it is vital to obtain feedback from all sectors of the population and not just a selected few. The long and short of it all is to have widespread consultations in crafting and refining government policies.  To this end, I suggest that civil servants and policy makers invite forum writers, caregivers, patients and social activists before such policies get implemented.  They should not shy away from seeking candid and frank views from this group.  

As far as healthcare is concerned, often the views of health care providers, social workers and voluntary welfare organisations are obtained during public forums.  However, as these workers are not living with those who are in dire need of support and care, they will not fully understand the suffering which this group faces and they may not present the full picture.  Patients and caregivers are the right people to obtain feedback from because they are walking the journey and the government needs to understand the difficulties caregivers face as they manage their care recipients 24/7.

Caregivers need to have an ongoing relationship with the government so that policies can be better formulated.  This is vital as the families' desire for emotionally sensitive care needs to be taken into consideration.

With more diversified views, the government will be in a far better position to craft and fine-tune its policies that will be beneficial to all Singaporeans.




Monday, April 7, 2014

Raymond's letter to The Straits Times: Tap family caregivers' experience

I agree with Mr Darren Chan Keng Leong that obtaining feedback from professional caregivers can help to improve the allocation of manpower ("Boost image, training to attract more professional caregivers"; last Monday).

Although caregiving is no easy task, it is a meaningful journey - especially when you can help to contribute to the well-being of the care recipient.

While training from professionals is necessary to equip caregivers with the skills to manage their sick loved ones, it is just as important to tap the knowledge of family caregivers who are living the experience, and who are prepared to make all the sacrifices in the long and unpredictable journey.

As far as health care is concerned, the Government often seeks the views of voluntary welfare organisations, health-care providers, grassroots leaders and selected members of the public to understand sentiments on the ground before implementing its policies.

Resilient family caregivers with a wealth of experience in supporting their loved ones for decades can provide a clearer and better perspective of what it is like to care for loved ones grappling with physical and intellectual challenges.

When there is a better understanding of how family caregivers cope with the emotional, physical and financial challenges they encounter every day, the Government will be in a better position to formulate or refine its policies to support citizens who deserve a helping hand before they suffer burn-out.

To this end, I urge the Government to engage family caregivers in its discussions and forums when implementing and refining its policies.

Raymond Anthony Fernando


Friday, April 4, 2014

Letter to Media Corp’s TODAY newspaper: Diverse views needed to help fine-tune policies

My letter to TODAY on the above matter was published on Friday 4th April 2014

I was encouraged by the report, “Civil Service needs to involve public more to retain trust: Tharman” (March 27). I hope the Civil Service can obtain more diverse views to craft the right policies.

One of the issues Singaporeans are concerned about is the cost of living, especially that of housing, transport and healthcare. For example, during a recent post-Budget forum on healthcare chaired by the Health Minister and Senior Minister of State (Health), participants expressed their worries about rising costs.

To understand the concerns of citizens fully, it is vital for civil servants to obtain feedback from all sectors of the population. Diverse, constructive feedback helps fine-tune policies and will benefit the public.

To this end, civil servants and policy-makers can reach out to newspaper letter writers and social activists before policies are crafted.

In healthcare, the views of health-care providers, social workers and voluntary welfare organisations are often obtained at forums. However, these workers are not living with those in dire need of support and may not understand fully the travails of this group.

Patients and caregivers are the right people to obtain feedback from because they are walking the journey. The Government needs to understand the difficulties caregivers face, for example. The feedback portal REACH should also seek candid views from those struggling in life.





Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to The Straits Times: Conduct audits on residential, nursing homes

My letter to The Straits Times on the above matter was published today, Tuesday 1st April 2014.

At a recent post-Budget feedback forum, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong assured participants that while health care will remain affordable, it is necessary for everyone to stay healthy in order to keep costs low ("Health-care costs, hospital bed crunch key topics at govt forum"; March 21).

Although I agree with Mr Gan, there are instances in which people's health can be compromised due to reasons beyond their control.

For instance, some cheaper drugs to treat mental illness have been known to cause side effects. If better-quality drugs are prescribed, the risk of people suffering from multiple ailments can be significantly reduced.

Also, while some nursing homes provide excellent care and practise good hygiene, there are others found wanting in these areas due to limited resources and funding. In such instances, residents may end up falling sick and requiring hospitalisation.

It would be prudent for the Government to invest more in residential and nursing homes, and to carry out random and periodic audits on these facilities.

Let it not be the case whereby action is taken only after someone blows the whistle.

Raymond Anthony Fernando