03 November 2003

The Ugly Singaporean Tourist

The strangest thing happened last night when I turned on the telly. Our Great Leader, after nearly one week since his missus contracted a stroke while touring in the UK, finally came back to Singapore, and the first thing he did was to give a press conference slamming the foreign country as a place with poor service, lousy healthcare, and nothing compared to our great, efficient nation. The Ugly Singaporean Tourist rears his head, in a personage no one scarcely expected. The details of the sordid tale is here.

The charge? Mrs. Great Leader had a stroke and was admitted to a London hospital. The doctors took 8 hours before they handled her, prefering instead to tend to 3 heart attack patients. Mr. Great Leader was so annoyed at not getting prompt service that he demanded to fly back to Singapore. So, Singapore Airlines mobilised an aircraft, get a team from SGH to retrofit the plane with the necessary equipment, and flew Mr and Mrs Great Leader home on that plane.

What did Mr. Great Leader complain was 'wrong' in how the london hospital staff treated his missus?

Lee said he and his wife had earlier waited 45 minutes for an ambulance to take them to the hospital for what was only a 10-minute drive. "If she was in Singapore, within... one and a half hours flat, we'd know exactly what went wrong," he said. Lee reportedly said the incident highlighed the problems of Britain's free health care system compared with Singapore's part user-pays method. "We run a system where you have to co-pay... but you get the attention. There, no attention, just join the queue."

Er, like. Let's give this guy a slap on the back of his head, shall we? If an average Singaporean had a stroke....

1. The ambulance may come in a few hours. Or it may not even come, as previous horror stories in the papers have reported.
2. After arrival at the A&E department of a Singapore hospital, you'll have to wait anything from 12 to more than 24 hours to see the doctor.
3. Mr. Lee, have you ever tried queueing when you visit a Singapore hospital?

According to some Ministry of Health guidelines, and from what I remember from my brief period as a volunteer, a Catscan needs to be done on a stroke patient from between 8 to 24 hours of a stroke. Stroke patients are indeed ranked on lower priority than heart attack patients, because a stroke tends to lead to a stabilised (but weak) condition and is usually not life-threatening. A heart attack can lead to death, and the patient health do not self-stabilise. Mrs. Great Leader's stroke was actually handled according to proper guidelines and procedures by the UK hospital.

What we can learn from Mr. Great Leader's experience... and let's just ignore whatever patriotic propaganda he's trying to spin out of this, is:
1. Being a big star entitles you to special treatment from Singapore Airlines. If you're big enough, they'll even prepare a private plane for you in 2 days.
2. Please, when you visit another country, try not to complain about how slow everything is, and expect everything to be run as "fast" and "efficiently" as Singapore.
3. If you're the Great Leader, everywhere you go in Singapore, you get special treatment. But not if you're overseas. Don't get too cocky and expect the United Kingdom to revolve around you, when you already have Singapore for that.

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