Professor Ivy Ng has been Group Chief Executive Officer of Singapore Health Services Pte Ltd (SingHealth) since January 2012. SingHealth is Singapore’s largest healthcare group and comprises Singapore General Hospital, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital, Sengkang Health, 5 National Speciality Centres (Cancer, Eye, Neurosciences, Dental and Heart), Bright Vision Community Hospital and 9 primary health polyclinics. In this interview, Ivy gives an overview of her unique style of leadership.
Q: Singapore is consistently ranked among the top countries in the world for efficient, and high quality healthcare. What makes Singapore such a healthy country?
Singapore has enjoyed a high standard of healthcare thanks to the government’s efforts to provide quality, basic medical services and promote healthy living and preventive health programmes. Healthcare is kept affordable and accessible by carefully balancing universal healthcare coverage with individual responsibility. The mixed financing system with multiple tiers of protection ensures that no Singaporean is denied access to healthcare because of affordability issues.
However, like many other countries, Singapore faces the multiple challenges of an ageing population with increasing chronic disease burden, growing demand, rising costs and shrinking manpower supply in the healthcare industry. To address this, we are looking at innovative ways to leverage technology, rethink healthcare roles and explore new models of care that would empower patients and caregivers to effectively take charge of their health in the community.
Q: As the Group CEO of Singapore’s largest healthcare group, how do you balance the requirements of the diverse medical institutions you oversee?
Our institutions that span from primary to tertiary care, handle more than one third of the country’s public healthcare needs. The operational requirements may differ but the fundamental principle to place patients at the heart of all initiatives and to ensure they remain well supported as they journey from one care setting to another remains.
Within our hospitals and national speciality centres, we have taken progressive steps to reorganise our systems and streamline processes so that patients with complex conditions and chronic diseases continue to get holistic multidisciplinary care in the secondary and acute tertiary settings. This is a new model of care that shifts away from the traditional episodic, institution based care to one that is integrated across the continuum and across traditional institution boundaries.
The SingHealth Duke-NUS Head and Neck Centre is one such example. The Centre combines the expertise of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals from Singapore General Hospital, National Cancer Centre Singapore and National Dental Centre Singapore, under one roof. Given the complexity of head and neck cancer, it is common for patients to have multiple appointments to see specialists from different departments – from general, plastic, ear, nose and throat to oral and maxillofacial surgeons. The one-stop Centre has since enabled patients to consult different specialists and get medical treatment, support and rehabilitation on the same day. It is one of six SingHealth Duke-NUS Disease Centres set up to organise care around the patient’s medical condition, psychosocial needs and lifestyle.
“Strategy and execution are absolutely essential, but passion ignites the flame!….
My motivation stems from a passion to make a difference to others.”
Q: You’ve previously said that your leadership style is people centred but goal driven. How do you sustain this approach?
What drives many of us in public healthcare is the passion to improve the lives of our patients. Strategy and execution are absolutely essential but passion ignites the flame! Having that shared passion and unifying purpose is a critical first step. I see my leadership role as one where I help staff harness that passion to comfort and heal, empower them to question the status quo and equip them with the appropriate resources to transform the way care is delivered. At the same time, it is equally important to track the results so that adjustments and improvements can be made to achieve organisational goals.
Q: In your role as Group CEO, what are the biggest challenges that you face, and what aspects of your position do you find most rewarding?
The perennial challenge is balancing system efficiency and rising costs with leading-edge Medicine that is accessible, affordable and always built around patients’ needs. It’s most rewarding when I am able to support my patients and colleagues to meet the demands of different life phases as they continue to make a positive impact in the lives of others.
John Maxwell once said that a great leader’s courage to fulfil his vision comes from passion not position. His words resonate with me because this has never been just a job or about earning a living. I’m inspired by generations of doctors who have served their lives in public healthcare because they believe they can make a difference. Likewise my motivation stems from a passion to make a difference to others.
Q: As one of the leading female healthcare professionals in Singapore, what do you think of diversity in healthcare today?
Healthcare is known to be a female-dominated industry yet few women are holding leadership positions in this industry. At SingHealth, we encourage more women to take on leadership and management roles in clinical care, nursing, allied health and healthcare administration, by supporting them with resources that help them balance their career demands with family commitments. We hope this will help fully optimise our talent pipeline.
Q: Under your leadership, the KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital transformed from specialising in obstetrics and gynaecology to offering a broader range of services. How did you navigate this significant upgrade?
We anticipated new needs and started investing resources into developing capabilities such as mental wellness, orthopaedic and breast surgery. At the same time, we looked for ways to streamline patient care by setting up one-stop centres such as the Cleft and Craniofacial Centre as well as Breast Centre to maximise efficiency and resource allocation and most importantly, bring greater convenience to our patients.
Q: SingHealth has collaborated extensively with other organisations including the Academic Medicine partnership with Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School. What role do these partnerships play in creating healthcare systems that are fit for the future?
Our academic medicine partnership with Duke-NUS Medical School, now in its eleventh year, has enabled us to push the boundaries of clinical practice, education and research for better patient care. It has also enabled staff to develop further professionally and enjoy even more fulfilling careers. Currently, we have more than 700 staff with clinical faculty appointments who spend part of their time teaching and mentoring medical students.
Structures such as Academic Clinical Programmes and joint research and education institutes act as platforms to provide opportunities to learn, network and showcase research and education efforts. Unlike stand-alone research institutes, the SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre has the capability to focus on bench to bedside to community research. We have seen encouraging results with several research discoveries that are the result of successful collaborations.
Examples include an extensive study on childhood myopia and its prevention; a new made-in Singapore cancer drug that targets colorectal, pancreatic, ovarian and gastric cancers and an anti-dengue drug, called Celgosivir; both of which are now in clinical trials. We aim to continue to encourage scientific curiosity and innovation while we promote and nurture successful collaborations in medicine and science with DukeNUS Medical School and other tertiary and research institutes. Such research collaborations will continue as we work towards better health outcomes for our patients.
To improve care, we are working alongside community partners towards an integrated care model beyond our campuses in the form of a Regional Healthcare System, so that care can be organised in such a way that it is seamless and holistic for patients at each stage of their healthcare journey.