Grabbing Singapore by the noose

We have been thinking long and hard to meet the healthcare needs of an ageing population since the 1980s. Speaking at the National Seminar on Productivity in Healthcare on 20 October 2016, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong pointed out that Singapore needs 300,000 more healthcare workers by 2020 to meet the needs of our ageing population. The number of elderly Singaporeans above the age of 65 will grow to 610,000 by 2020.

Naturally, the demand for funerary services and arrangements will certainly grow with (i) an increase in the number of resident population in Singapore and (ii) an ageing population, even after taking into consideration increased life expectancies.

The challenges facing the healthcare profession such as the lack of younger workers replacing retiring older workers and smaller [bereaved] families that needs help in a times of uncertainty are similar. Singapore will not be fully addressing its future healthcare needs by leaving its death care sector aside.

As it stands, there is a worrying and yawning gap between the needs of the aged and dying and the needs of the dead. We forgot about life after death. This is no ordinary disconnect. It is a colossal gap when viewed against the measures taken by healthcare sector to help itself ready for the silver tsunami. Today, the local funeral sector employs fewer than 1,000 employees, Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans included. The number of full-time, part-time and casual labour employed in the sector also remains unclear. What we do know is that more than 80% — 85% of embalmers in Singapore are Filipino nationals.

Singapore and Singaporeans are not sufficiently trained to meet the future death care needs of their fellow citizens and loved ones. We ignore it at the expense of our loved ones’ dignity, our own economic interests and our delicate psychological needs.

By the sheer simple fact that there are no mortuary school(s) or related training programs in Singapore, we are ill equipped to meet our death care needs in the coming decade. The total death and crude death rate will only increase at a faster rate from now till 2020. It will further accelerate between 2020 and 2030. As Singapore makes a generational transition at the economic and demographic level, there is a window of opportunity to address these worrying trends. My thoughts on addressing the shortfall in our manpower needs in the death care sector are laid out here.

We need to sit up and take note of the simmering crisis that will engulf Singapore in no time. We must act sooner rather than later. Today, the grim reaper comes knocking and Singapore is wholly unprepared to meet him at the doorstep. Death lurks, it is grabbing Singapore by the noose. Standing idly by is not an option anymore. Death needs a future in Singapore.