Lee Kuan Yew's Adventure With England's Social Welfare Hospitals

Just to get a perspective, here's a previous report, dated November 3, 2003, published by $ingapore's nation-builder press. $ingapore's health care system is privatised.

November 3, 2003
by Val Chua

Emotions ran high on a balmy Sunday night as the normally stoic Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew nearly broke down while recounting the ordeal his wife went through in London recently.

The troubles that the couple faced - including joining a queue in a free hospital - when Mrs Lee was hit by stroke two Sundays ago, revealed how differently two systems worked.

"I cannot tell you how restless and unhappy we felt," he said at a community event in Jalan Bukit Merah yesterday.

"We run a (healthcare) system where you have to co-pay ... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," he said grimly.

The first sign of trouble was that there was no private hospital with CT scan facility at night in London, he told residents and community leaders.

So, Mrs Lee had to go to the NHS hospital nearest to the Four Seasons Hotel where they were staying - a free facility called the Royal London Hospital - and join the queue.

"We waited 45 minutes for the ambulance for a 10-minute drive," said Mr Lee in his first public appearance since the couple returned on Friday.

"In Singapore, within half-an-hour, you would be in SGH (Singapore General Hospital), TTSH (Tan Tock Seng Hospital) ... and within one-and-a-half to two hours flat, you'd know what went wrong."

When Mrs Lee reached The Royal London Hospital at 12.30am, it happened to have three cardiac arrest patients.

Mr Lee was told his wife's brain problem was "not as important" as the cardiac arrest cases, he recounted solemnly. She would have had to wait till 8am the next morning for her CT brain scan if 10 Downing Street had not intervened to get her early attention. High Commissioner Michael Teo had sought help from 10 Downing Street at 2am on Sunday and she received treatment at 3.30am on the night itself.

"Once upon a time, it was a wonderful hospital. But after 40 plus years ... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients," he said.

But it's the way free healthcare systems work, he added, noting that Singapore must not go down that path, even though there are calls for free C class wards in public hospitals here.

"It's how the system works ... They did not discriminate against us," he noted of his London experience.

This contrasted sharply with how quickly Singaporeans - including national carrier Singapore Airlines - reacted to the situation.

Even though doctors initially advised that Mrs Lee stay put in London for three weeks, Mr Lee decided fly her back once her condition stabilised.

And then there was the big worry that she would get a spasm onboard, he recounted.

But he needn't have worried. Within 48 hours, SIA had fitted out SQ321 with medical support of oxygen tanks and other fixtures for a drip.

"No other airline would have done this," Mr Lee said, looking visibly touched.

On board were also two Intensive Care nurses from Changi General Hospital, two doctors, as well as officials from SIA who made sure all the equipment worked.

"Everyone knows his job," said Mr Lee. "Within 12 to 13 hours, we'd reached Changi Airport. It was a big relief," he said. "Twelve to 13 hours. Your heart stops beating sometimes. We landed at Changi Airport. Great relief. I had my granddaughter (Li Xiuqi) with me. She is very fond of her grandmother. She was so relieved."

Mrs Lee was whisked off in an ambulance to Singapore General Hospital, where she is recovering.

"I think this experience has changed my granddaughter's view of Singapore," Mr Lee said.

The overseas ordeal has made him even more assured that Singapore has what it takes to succeed, despite the downturn. "It's how we respond in an emergency that determines how we fight back. And I have enormous confidence that we can fight back."

The Singapore system - with its efficiency and fighting spirit - must be kept, he said.

"You slacken, you choose the easy way, and you'd be finished," he said.

Choking back tears, he added: "I have immense confidence that in an emergency, our people respond ... If we can do that, we can succeed."

Agence-France Presse
November 4, 2003

Singapore's Senior Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, admitted Wednesday he was mistaken to claim that British Prime Minister Tony Blair's office intervened to ensure his wife got quick treatment at a London hospital.

The elderly Lee caused a mini furore when he told a public gathering here at the weekend that 10 Downing St helped ensure his wife was given a brain scan four and a half hours earlier than doctors had initially said they could.

Mrs Lee Kuan Yew, 82, was taken to the state-run Royal London Hospital at 12:30 am on Sunday October 27 after she suffered a stroke while the couple were travelling on official business.

Lee, 80, initially said Singapore High Commissioner Michael Teo had called 10 Downing Street at 2:00 am and asked them to help ensure Mrs Lee was given the CT scan more quickly.

"Because of 10 Downing Street, the CT scan was done at 3:30 am. And then the blood clot could be seen clearly," Lee told the weekend community event, adding the incident highlighted the problems of Britain's free health care system.

But after the Royal London Hospital denied on Tuesday it ever gave preferential treatment to anyone and his comments made front-page headlines in Britain, Lee's office issued a short statement clarifying his comments.

"Mr Lee Kuan Yew regrets he was mistaken that 10 Downing Street had anything to do with his wife getting a CT scan at 3:30 am," the statement said.

"Earlier, at 2:00 am, he was told that it would be done at 8:00 am because they had cardiac patients to attend to.

"The hospital authorities may have decided on their own that they could do the scan for Mrs Lee earlier and she was scanned at 3:00 am, completing it at 3:30 am."

The Royal London Hospital is part of Britain's huge state-run National Health Service, which guarantees free health care to all but suffers long waiting lists, excessive red tape and a shortage of doctors and nurses.

Lee's weekend comments that were critical of Britain's health care system compared with Singapore's part user-pays method also caused controversy.

"We run a system where you have to co-pay... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue," local media reported Lee as saying.

He described The Royal London Hospital as a "wonderful hospital" a long time ago.

"But after 40 plus years... the system cannot deliver. There's no connection between those in the system and the patients."

Lee also praised Singapore Airlines for fitting out a plane with two intenstive care nurses, two doctors, oxygen and a drip to bring his wife back to Singapore, despite a British doctor telling them it would be better she stayed in London to recover.

"We weighed the odds and decided to take the risk," Lee said.

Mrs Lee is recovering at Singapore General Hospital.

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August 24, 2007