More help in the pipeline for caregivers

To be rolled out over 2 years, they include a $200 grant and loosening of restrictions on Medisave funds to pay for sibling's care

A slew of measures will be rolled out over two years to help Singaporeans who care for the old, the sick and the disabled.

These include a new $200 grant to offset costs of care, more respite care options, and the loosening of restrictions on Medisave funds for people to help pay for their siblings' care.

The announcement was made by Senior Minister of State for Health Edwin Tong at a marathon seven-hour Parliament session yesterday, during which 25 MPs and six office-holders spoke at length about the importance of helping Singaporeans age well and ensuring their caregivers receive adequate support amid a greying nation.

Many shared anecdotes of personal encounters with burnt-out caregivers who had sought their help.

The measures in the new Caregiver Support Action Plan comes four months after the Health Ministry said it was going to review the caregiver support system.

At least six measures to help ease the burden on caregivers will be launched under the plan, including a means-tested Home Caregiving Grant to be introduced by the end of this year.

The $200 monthly grant will replace the existing $120 Foreign Domestic Worker Grant, and will give caregivers greater flexibility in how to use the money. Anyone with permanent moderate disabilities will be eligible, regardless of age.

By end-2019, people can also use their Medisave funds to pay for the healthcare expenses of their Singaporean siblings.

The Agency for Integrated Care, which coordinates eldercare schemes, will also launch three pilot schemes to expand respite care options.

These include a night service for caregivers of dementia patients and a home-based service for cancer patients on palliative care.

It will also try out a pre-enrolment system at certain senior care centres and nursing homes so that respite services can be activated at short notice, if necessary.

The ministry will also set up more caregiver support networks and make it easier for people to access the services they need, said Mr Tong. More details will be given in the coming months.

By 2030, one in four Singapore residents will be 65 and older, and informal caregiving arrangements will grow as the population ages.

Given Singapore's demographic profile, Mr Tong said his speech focused mainly on help for those caring for the elderly "as a start".

But there is a "broad range of caregivers who operate in a variety of different circumstances and a very broad landscape", he added.

"Their needs are diverse, as with their own particular family or caregiving circumstances, so over time we will need to look carefully at what these needs are, and whether further assistance might be needed."

At yesterday's session, MPs also recounted stories about seniors living their golden years with energy and aplomb as they discussed how to help this group age in good health and with financial stability.

Suggestions included providing more work and volunteering opportunities for seniors who want them and assisted living options in both Housing Board and private housing developments.