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Health, Beauty & Fashion

Free TCM clinics take pulse of the heartland

The Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution has set up two new branches to make traditional remedies more accessible.
The Straits Times - September 11, 2012
By: Poon Chian Hui
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Free TCM clinics take pulse of the heartland Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution set up its first housing estate branch in Ang Mo Kio last month. Its centre in Sengkang will open on Friday. The three centres are expected to serve 1,000 patients a day. -- PHOTO: LIANHE ZAOBAO

AS GROWING numbers of patients seek Chinese medical treatment, one of the Republic's oldest charitable clinics has set up two new branches to make traditional remedies more accessible.

The move by the Singapore Thong Chai Medical Institution, which offers free treatment, represents an unprecedented foray into the heartland.

Last month, it opened a branch in Ang Mo Kio, its first in a housing estate. On Friday, a second centre will be opened at the Sengkang Community Hub. It will be staffed by six physicians, including two acupuncturists.

Before the new branches were set up, the 145-year-old organisation operated solely from its centre at Chin Swee Road.

Chairman Lim Guan Lee said it decided to expand quickly because of the growing number of patients seeking traditional Chinese medicine. He added that the clinic's daily patient count had increased from 500 in 2010 to more than 700 now.

"With the new centres, we expect to breach the 1,000 mark," he said in Mandarin. "Already, the Ang Mo Kio branch is treating 200 people a day, well above our initial estimates."

He added that setting up centres in housing estates meant elderly patients with problems walking will not need to travel far to get treatment.

The institution's honorary secretary Khoo Boo Liat said the rising interest in its services was due to the fact that they were free and to its physicians' growing clout.

"Health-care costs in Singapore are rising, so the free treatment can be attractive to many people," he said. "Meanwhile, the reputation and expertise of our physicians has grown."

The institution's chief physician Chong Saw Fong said there is a small but growing group of young people seeking traditional Chinese treatment. However, about seven in 10 patients are above 60. Most suffer from aches and pains.

Mr Khoo said because the clinic was free, the extra branches meant more public donations will be needed. Annual operating costs had doubled in the past two years to $4 million. The two new centres will drive this up to about $5 million.

"Going forward, we will need more donations from the public to tide over difficult periods," said Mr Khoo.

The institute celebrates its 145th anniversary this month and will hold a series of events, including a fund-raiser. Proceeds will go towards providing free consultation and medicine.

Mr Lim said: "We hope to open more heartland clinics so more people can benefit from our free medical services."

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