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History of our acute hospitals

​From humble beginnings as a wooden shed, to the formation of hospitals and specialty centres, our healthcare system has grown through time and tide to best serve the needs of our nation with advanced care and services we now offer.

Before Sir Stamford Raffles arrived in Singapore in 1819, the few native communities living here sought treatment from traditional Chinese doctors, Malay healers and Indian Ayurvedic physicians. With the arrival of Sir Stamford Raffles, western medical practices were introduced to our shores, primarily attending to the British troops and the European community. It eventually evolved to become an essential part of Singapore’s society.

The history of SingHealth's hospitals

The year was 1821. Singapore's first General Hospital started life in a wooden shed in the Cantonment area where British troops were situated near Bras Basah Road and Stamford Road. At that time, diseases such as cholera, smallpox, enteric fevers, typhoid and venereal diseases were common, and treatment was rudimentary at best. Hospitals were often dilapidated, had few beds and faced a chronic shortage of trained staff.

Over the next 60 years, the General Hospital was relocated and rebuilt five times, mainly because of the poor state of the buildings. Singapore General Hospital finally settled in its current day location at Outram Road, some of its past addresses included Pearl’s Hill and Kandang Kerbau.

Click here to read the full history of SGH

The main block and entrance of the old wing of the former KK Hospital, and the current KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital

One of SGH’s past locations was at Kandang Kerbau, at the junction of Bukit Timah and Serangoon Roads in 1858. Before the general hospital moved to Kandang Kerbau, public hospitals did not serve local female patients. This facility admitted its first patients for childbirth and gynaecological conditions in 1865.

At that time, venereal diseases were a key public healthcare concern in Singapore. The British colonial government introduced laws on vaccination, quarantine and registration of birth and deaths, marking the first steps towards prevention and control of infectious diseases. A cholera outbreak in 1873 forced the general hospital to move to the Sepoy Lines. In 1884, the facility at Kandang Kerbau became an establishment that specialised in the treatment of women with venereal diseases.

In the 1880s, women gave birth at home, attended to mostly by untrained midwives, relatives or friends. The knowledge regarding maternal or infant care was lacking. As such, infant mortality rates was high well into the 1920s. The colonial government introduced initiatives to reduce the mortality rate through legislation, subsidies, education and formal training of midwives.

Over time, more women chose to deliver their babies in hospitals rather than at home. To meet this demand, the hospital at Kandang Kerbau was converted into a dedicated maternity hospital in 1924. It was known as the Free Maternity Hospital, which eventually came to be known as Kandang Kerbau Hospital. In 1952, the School of Midwifery was set up to train midwives.

In 1966, the number of deliveries continued to rise, reaching a record high of 39,835. This won KK Hospital a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest number of births in a single maternity facility in that year – a record it held for ten years. More than 85% of all the births took place in KK, where over 100 babies were delivered daily.

Click here to read more on the history of KKH.
Between 1934 to 1941, several military hospitals in Singapore were established, including the Royal Air Force Hospital.

However, the Second World War (1942-1945) interrupted the steady progress of healthcare in Singapore. During that era, most doctors came from India and Britain and were unable to travel to the region, and essential supplies to the hospital were disrupted by the war. Local doctors and nurses had to manage hospital operations with the limitations they faced. In spite of adversity, the war helped local doctors and nurses to grow in their medical skills.

After the war ended, the Legislative Council implemented a 10-year Medical Plan to improve Singapore’s health and medical services, which led to the expansion and modernisation of existing hospitals. Training and registration of nursing and medical professions became regulated.

The foundations of Changi General Hospital – Thomson Road Hospital in the 1960s, and Toa Payoh Hospital in 1994.

With its post-war independence, the Singapore government stepped up its efforts to improve the quality of healthcare for the country. It was during this period that Western medical practices gradually overtook traditional medical practices as the primary means of healthcare for majority of the population. The demand for hospital care was slowly gaining traction. Thomson Road Hospital and Changi Hospital, which are the roots of today’s Changi General Hospital, were built.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) Hospital, originally established to meet the medical needs of the naval base in Changi between 1934-41, went through a series of name changes under different administrations. It was eventually handed over to the Singapore government and combined with the nearby Changi Chalet Hospital, to become Changi Hospital in 1976, providing general medicine, general surgery, dental surgery and 24-hour Accident & Emergency services.

In 1957, Thomson Road Hospital was built to meet the demand for medical services, and accommodate spillover patients from the Sepoy Lines General Hospital. The patient load gradually increased, with new clinical specialties introduced and facilities such as a surgical block and an X-ray department added. The hospital was renamed Toa Payoh Hospital in the 1970s, after the newly built satellite town that it served. By the 1980s, Toa Payoh Hospital was operating at maximum capacity to serve patients from the surrounding New Towns of Toa Payoh, Ang Mo Kio, Yishun, Serangoon and Bishan. Its administrators sought out a new site to build a bigger and better hospital.

Toa Payoh Hospital merged with Changi Hospital and moved to Simei in 1997. The new CGH was officially opened in 1998, becoming Singapore’s first purpose-built regional hospital serving communities in the east and northeast regions.

Click here to read more about the history of CGH
In November 1999, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced that Singapore’s public healthcare institutions would be organised into healthcare clusters. This announcement saw the birth of the SingHealth cluster in 2000, with SGH as its flagship hospital.

With the most recent reorganisation of public healthcare institutions into three clusters in 2017, SingHealth focused its delivery of care to eastern Singapore, with expertise and focus on developing regional health systems for residents in the east.

Click here to read the MOH press release on the healthcare clusters

The SingHealth RHS is responsible for enabling our population to keep well, get well and live well, in close collaboration with community partners.

Across our three medical campuses – SGH, CGH and SKH – we have adopted a one SingHealth, multi-site approach that allows us to leverage the capabilities of our respective institutions and customise programmes according to the unique population health needs of each region.

Click here for more information.
With new towns in Sengkang and Punggol established in the 1990s, growth in healthcare needs in the northeast region was to expected rise significantly. In 2011, the Ministry of Health (MOH) announced the government’s plan to build a new integrated hospital facility in Sengkang to realise the nation’s vision of bringing healthcare closer to residents living in the different regions across the island. The new general and community hospitals were to be managed by SingHealth.

Click here to learn more about SingHealth Community Hospitals.

The Hospital Planning Committee of Sengkang General Hospital (SKH) believed in preventative care, that one should not wait till people became sick to provide care. The hospital worked closely with the residents of Sengkang and Punggol to build an integrated hospital development that truly addresses the needs of the community, first, by keeping them healthy. Even before the hospital opened its doors to the public, the team was actively engaged in preventive health outreach efforts, community engagement and educational forums. Sengkang General Hospital was opened in 2018, co-located with Sengkang Community Hospital to offer a seamless transition from acute to step-down care.

Click here to read the story of Sengkang General Hospital
Our public hospitals have undergone numerous transformations in the past two centuries to meet the healthcare needs of Singaporeans. With changing times and new care models, our infrastructure and services are expected to continue to transform to meet the healthcare needs of the local population now and into the future. To better serve the healthcare needs in the eastern sector, MOH announced in 2020 the building of a new integrated hospital in Bedok to be managed by SingHealth, and help distribute and manage the patient load at CGH.

At SingHealth, we build upon solid foundations laid by our medical predecessors in clinical care, research and education so as to continue our journey of Defining Tomorrow’s Medicine into the next century and beyond.