Do More to Retain Foreign Allied Health Professionals in Social Service | SPD - Singapore

Do More to Retain Foreign Allied Health Professionals in Social Service

31 October 2014

Therapist at work

Retention of physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists is an ongoing challenge. SPD’s executive director Mr Abhimanyau Pal suggests a way around the issue in this letter which was published in Today Online on 22 October. He was responding to the article “MOH outlines strategies to recruit, retain allied health professionals” on Channel NewsAsia which reported the Health Minister’s acknowledgement of the important role allied health professionals play and existing strategies to retain them.


Minister for Health Mr Gan Kim Yong recently mentioned that Ministry of Health (MOH) and Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) have implemented strategies to support service providers in retaining allied health professionals (AHPs) such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists and speech therapists.

Retention of AHPs has always been a challenge in the social service as well as intermediate and long-term care (ILTC) sectors and the service providers are mostly voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). Factors contributing to the manpower shortage include low wages normally offered in these sectors and the perception of lower career prospects for its AHPs, higher draw of the public healthcare sector and the high cost of living in Singapore. We are encouraged that measures have been put in place to address this, for instance enhancing the pay of AHPs, attracting more young locals to take up studies in therapy, and encouraging mid-career switchers to join the sector and AHPs to upgrade and acquire new skills.

With local AHPs still in short supply, supplementing this workforce with foreign-trained professionals is a viable solution. Yet, there is little to encourage such talents to stay.

Over the last three decades, we have seen many foreign AHPs come to Singapore and serve our people well. As they begin to settle down here, they consider bringing their families over to join them. However, the low pay, especially for those who work in VWOs, coupled with the high living expenses here, deter them from doing so resulting in many leaving Singapore and our consequently losing talents whom we have painstakingly trained and nurtured over time.

We are losing many foreign AHPs, while demand for AHP services in the community setting will only grow with Singapore’s aging population and the Government’s move towards less reliance on hospital settings. Perhaps as it works to develop our local talent pool, the Government could also do more to prevent the drainage of experienced foreign-trained AHPs on whom we have invested heavily over the last three to five years to prepare them to understand our clinical practice standards, as well as increase their clinical competencies to serve the Singapore population well. While we have rightly tightened our immigration policy in recent years, from the business sense, it is a loss to us when such experienced therapists leave.

We will continue to work with the authorities and look forward to greater support from them as we endeavour to provide quality and professional therapy services for the community.