SingHealth, Singapore’s largest healthcare cluster, has five national specialty centres – National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS), National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS), National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS, National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) and Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC).
Did you know that the roots of our national centres can be traced back to Singapore General Hospital (SGH), the flagship hospital of the cluster celebrating its Bicentennial in 2021? Let’s take a closer look at the inception of each of these five centres.
In the early years of Singapore’s independence, establishing an effective healthcare system was one of the newly formed government’s top priorities. Back in the 1960s, while the standard of living had improved markedly, there was a need to design and structure our healthcare system to meet Singapore’s demands then and into the future.
Government initiatives shaped the development of public healthcare and paved the way for medical specialisation. In 1970, The Ministry of Health (MOH) commissioned the Committee on Medical Specialisation that laid the foundation for medical specialties and sub-specialties. This catapulted Singapore’s health system to a level that is on par with many first-world countries.
SGH housed a number of medical specialties, such as neurosurgery and cardiothoracic surgery, from which our five national centres came from.
In 1993, MOH introduced a "White Paper on Affordable Healthcare" - a blueprint for enhanced specialist healthcare that called for the consolidation of resources to develop national centres for disciplines with large patient loads. Shortly after, our national specialty centres were progressively incorporated and opened. With the inception of SingHealth in 2000, the five specialty centres became a part of the largest public healthcare cluster caring for the nation.
The first dental school and clinic had its early beginnings in 1929 at Norris Block, SGH. It was relocated and renamed Singapore General Hospital Dental Clinic in 1938, providing training to dental students and dental treatment. When the dental school was relocated to Kent Ridge in 1986, the clinic at SGH continued operating and was renamed Government Dental Clinic.
As demand for public dentistry increased, the need for better dental facilities and clinical expertise spawned the vision of a national dental centre. Between 1989 and 1995, architectural plans were drawn up for a complex to house the Pegu Road Dental Clinic, Institute of Dental Health and Government Dental Clinic under one roof. The complex was opened in 1997, known today as the National Dental Centre Singapore (NDCS).
NDCS and SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre launched the National Dental Research Institute Singapore (NDRIS) in 2019 to drive oral health research in Asia. The NDRIS comprises three programmes – Singapore Oro-facial Initiative (SOFI), Singapore Oral Microbiomics Initiative (SOMI) and Singapore Oral Population Health Initiative (SOPI) – which aims to meet oral health priorities in Singapore and worldwide by tapping on NDCS’s clinical and research capabilities and partnerships with other academic and research institutions.
In 2020, NDCS and SGH held its groundbreaking ceremony for the new NDCS building and SGH Elective Care Centre, which is expected to open in 2027.
Read the history of NDCS
The old surgical blocks at SGH which made way for SNEC.
The first government eye clinic was established at SGH in 1934, marking the beginning of ophthalmology services in Singapore. This was the only eye clinic up till the 1970s catering to the ophthalmology care needs of the general public.
The Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) was incorporated in 1989 and commenced operations in 1990. It was established as the first specialist medical centre with the specific objective of achieving excellence in ophthalmic practice at an international level. SNEC’s opening marked the rapid progress in ophthalmology in Singapore and has led the field of eye care ever since.
In the coming years, SNEC will see an expansion of facilities and services at Bowyer Block.
See the key milestones of SNEC
In 1963, the first cardiac laboratory in Singapore was set up in SGH. When SGH restructured in 1989, its strategy was to optimise the medical services through consolidation and specialisation. As a result, the Department of Cardiology and Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery were merged into an ambulatory centre known as the Singapore Heart Centre (SHC) in 1994.
Housed initially in a modestly refurbished four-storey building that was previously a paediatric ward, SHC went about achieving notable clinical milestones which included its first pacemaker implantations, and carried out coronary angioplasty (opening of blocked arteries) and cardiac arrhythmia (abnormal heart rhythm) surgery. SHC was renamed as National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) in 1998.
Today, occupying a 12-storey building, NHCS continues to be one of the region’s busiest cardiovascular speciality centre – with over 1.9 million patient visits over the last 20 years. The move to the new building in 2014 further propels NHCS’ unique position in cardiac care, including the roll-out of patient visit initiative - the 1-Queue-1-Bill system and the launch of National Heart Research Institute Singapore (NHRIS) to focus on advancing medical research to improve cardiovascular health.
See the key milestones of NHCS
According to the Singapore Cancer Registry, the incidence of cancer increased six-fold between 1968 and 2017. This, together with a rapidly ageing population, has made cancer a major healthcare concern for Singaporeans.
“Singapore created a comprehensive cancer centre because of the rising occurrence of cancer in the country,” noted Prof Soo Khee Cheevi, founding director of the National Cancer Centre Singapore (NCCS).
NCCS was first established as a specialised unit of SGH in 1993 and later commenced operations as a stand-alone national specialty centre in 1999. Since then, NCCS has become a comprehensive one-stop cancer centre that practices a multi-disciplinary, holistic approach to cancer care. NCCS is also home to a dynamic team of clinician-scientists and researchers who work with clinicians to discover breakthroughs that improve the prevention, diagnoses, and treatment of cancer.
To meet the increasing need for cancer care, the Ministry of Health gave its approval for NCCS to build a new facility, which will be ready in 2022. The new NCCS building, which is part of the SGH Campus Masterplan, will have 24 stories dedicated to patient care, education and research. It will also house the Goh Cheng Liang Proton Therapy Centre, a comprehensive proton therapy facility, made possible by a $50 million donation from Mr Goh Cheng Liang and the Goh Foundation.
See the key milestones of NCCS
Singapore’s first section of neurosurgery was established in 1965 at the Thomson Road Hospital, a predecessor of Changi General Hospital (CGH). It quickly gained momentum and nearly doubled its operative volume by the early 1970s. In 1972, the Singapore government decided to develop specialisation in the neurosciences and commissioned the formation of a new combined Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH).
NNI was established in 1999 to provide specialised neurological, neurosurgical and neuroradiological care for patients in Singapore, supported by diagnostic laboratories. Apart from neuroscience clinics, diagnostics laboratories were also set up. With the largest community of neuroscience specialists in Singapore sharing a common goal of advancing care for neurological conditions, this led to the dawn of a new age for neuroscience care. In 2001, NNI joined SingHealth and the TTSH campus clinical Neurology and Neurosurgery services and research resources were integrated with the department of Clinical Neurosciences at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Since then, NNI has expanded its services and now provides Neurology and Neurosurgery specialist care at six public hospitals: SGH, CGH, Sengkang General Hospital, TTSH, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital and KK Women's and Children's Hospital (Neurosurgery).
Going forward, NNI will continue to focus on advancing research to improve the diagnosis and treatment of neurological conditions, equipping healthcare professionals with the clinical skills they need to manage such conditions and working with community care partners to help persons living with disabling brain, nerve and spine conditions receive convenient care in the vicinity of their home.
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