Speech by DPM Wong Kan Seng at KK Women's and Children's Hospital's 150th Anniversary Dinner
27 JULY 2008 AT 8.10 PM
Professor Ivy Ng,
Ladies and gentlemen.
Good evening. First, let me congratulate all past and present staff and management who have contributed to the growth of the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital through the years, as we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this iconic institution in Singapore. As Minister-in-Charge of population matters, I have a strong interest in KK Hospital, particularly in the number of babies that are delivered each year in Singapore.
SIGNIFICANT MILESTONES IN KK’S HISTORY
KK or “Tekka” Hospital is a household name in Singapore. It is now widely regarded as the leading women’s and children’s hospital in the region too. This reputation did not come about by chance, but built up through years of sustained growth and development. In the past 150 years, KK has witnessed many significant milestones. Let me recount the major ones with five key numbers: 1858, one million, 500,000, 40,000 and 1983.
a. 1858: This was the year that KK was founded as a general hospital;
b. One million: KK Hospital is the birthplace of more than a million Singaporeans1 , including my two sons and two grandchildren;
c. 500,000: Every year, the hospital serves about 500,000 women and children;
d. 40,000: At its peak in 1966, KK’s doctors delivered a record 40,000 babies from 39,856 deliveries. This is more than all the resident births we had in Singapore last year! KK was consistently cited in the Guinness Book of World Records in the 1950s to 1970s as the world’s busiest maternity hospital. Today, KK still delivers about one-third of all babies born in Singapore; and,
e. 1983: 1983 was the year when KK delivered Asia’s first in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) baby.
Indeed, KK has grown from a general hospital in 1858 to a maternity hospital in 1924 with just 30 beds, and to become the largest and leading medical facility in Singapore specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology, neonatology and paediatrics today. It has also opened one of the largest paediatric children’s cancer centres in Southeast Asia last year.
KK’s evolution as a maternity hospital mirrors that of our population trend. In 1966, when KK delivered 40,000 babies, a total of 54,680 babies were born in Singapore. Fast forward to about 40 years later – just 37,0742 babies were born in the whole of Singapore last year. It is a well-known fact that Singapore now has one of the lowest fertility rates in the world at 1.29. If this rate is not increased, Singapore’s population will be halved beyond 2070 without an inflow of foreign immigrants.
KK’s experience provides insights into how we can tackle Singapore’s population challenge. With falling births over the years, KK could have become a smaller maternity hospital but it continued to grow. It moved into new frontiers, such as assisted conception. It has also expanded its medical and healthcare services beyond basic maternity needs to cover a more comprehensive range of women’s and children’s medical requirements. KK is ready to help us deliver more babies. What is needed is for us to bring the proverbial stork to Singapore more regularly.
BOOSTING OUR MARRIAGE AND PARENTHOOD EFFORTS
KK recently produced a guidebook titled “My Little Baby” on bringing up babies in Singapore. Let me quote from an article in the book – “there’s no better time than now to have children”. This is indeed so. As I mentioned in Parliament a few days ago, the Government is looking into how we can further facilitate and support more Singaporeans to get married and have children. There are a few key areas, based on surveys and public consultations, where Singaporeans need more support.
First, financial support. While monetary incentives should not be the reason for a couple to have a child, we understand that it can be a constraint.
Second, time. Work and life should be more balanced. Today, many are working outside of the office and office hours, constantly checking their lap-tops, PDAs and handphones at home and on the move. I know this is true – my staff do this too! On average, Singaporeans work longer hours than other developed countries. It takes time to get to find someone special, get married and start a family. Singaporeans must balance their work with their social and family life.
Third, childcare support. Dual-income families are becoming the norm. Taking time off to have and raise a child can be difficult, and potential parents are worried about childcare arrangements that they end up putting off starting a family. We know that childcare support is important for parents, not just for child-minding purposes but also in providing developmental and socialisation opportunities for the young children.
The Government is mindful that for all its efforts, whether we are able to raise our fertility rate depends on a collective desire among Singaporeans to want to foster an overall environment in Singapore that is conducive to getting married and having children. Employers have to support better work-life practices, friends and relatives have to chip in to help, and most of all, Singaporeans must desire to get married and raise families in the first place. All these require a societal mindset change.
CELEBRATING KK’S CONTINUED GROWTH AND SUCCESS
Hopefully, with a new package of measures that will be announced next month and a strong collective desire towards supporting family life in Singapore, our baby count will increase. Throughout its history, KK has been the birthplace of choice for many parents. Much of that has to do with the high standards of medical care and support provided by the doctors and staff of KK. As we celebrate the 150th anniversary of this venerable institution, let me thank all KK staff, past and present, for their sterling work and I wish you many more years of continued growth and success. Here’s to KK and to more babies in Singapore!
1 The old KK Hospital, now a historic site marked by the National Heritage Board, was the birthplace of over 1.2 million Singaporeans (2003).
2 Resident babies.