Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH)
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Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), established in 1844, is one of the oldest hospitals in Singapore. First set up at Pearl's Hill helped by a generous donation by a wealthy philanthropist, Tan Tock Seng, the hospital moved to Balestier Plain, then to Moulmein Road and finally to its current premises at Jalan Tan Tock Seng. Offering services in 17 clinical disciplines and equipped with the state of the art facilities and equipment, it is currently the second largest hospital in Singapore.
The health conditions in the 19th century was deplorable with the poor and sick given little outlet to seek medical treatment. A pauper's hospital, the precursor of the Singapore General Hospital set up in 1821 by the British government, was in the 1830s beset with problems due to lack of funding. Tan Tock Seng (b.1798, Malacca, Malaysia - d.16 March 1850, Singapore), an immigrant from the Fujian province in China who became a wealthy merchant, donated $5,000 to set up a hospital for the poor. He was responding to the Governor's request for advice on how to legally enforce the rich to contribute to the welfare of the less well-off. In a letter dated 17 October 1843 to Governor W.J. Butterworth, he also offered land for the hospital. On 25 July 1844, the foundation stone for Tan Tock Seng's Pauper Hospital was laid on Pearl's Hill. The hospital was first called the "Chinese Pauper's Hospital", which was the name engraved on the brass plate commemorating the founding of the hospital. It was later called "Tan Tock Sing Hospital", and it was only in the 1850s when the spelling of the name was officially changed to "Tan Tock Seng".
Although the foundation stone was laid in 1844, the building was only ready in 1849. The construction took three years but had to remain vacant for the next two years because of insufficient funds to run the hospital. Bureaucracy prevented the government from footing the bill for the operational costs as originally intended. In the meantime, the patients were housed in an attap shed at the foot of Pearl's Hill. It took a storm in 1849, which brought down this shed, to initiate the move of patients to the hospital building itself. Tan Tock Seng Hospital was the first hospital to be built totally from private funds. The architect was John Turnbull Thomson, and he gave the building a western classical design. It had an imposing facade of columns which were erected side by side at the base of the hill. In 1852, after many initial hurdles including staff shortage, the hospital committee decided to ask for public donations. One response came from Tan Kim Cheng, Tan Tock Seng's son, who donated $2,000. He also built a water tank for the hospital and helped to lower the costs of burying the dead. Donations came from other quarters too: the Parsee community donated $1,000 in 1852 and Syed Allie bin Mohd Aljunied, an Arab merchant, donated $1,000 in 1854.
In 1856, the hospital faced another crisis when the government decided to fortify Pearl's Hill. Guns were to be placed atop this hill, at the hospital's site, and cannons were to be positioned at Fort Canning. These two areas were meant not only for guarding the town but also as refuge for the Europeans. This move was inspired by the 1856's Sino-British war and the Indian Mutiny incident in 1857. The hospital had to be moved to a new building and site, and the junction of Serangoon Road and Balestier Road was chosen. Funds for the construction of the new hospital came from both quarters: the government as well as the family of Tan Tock Seng. Tan Kim Cheng supervised the hospital's move to the new site. His mother, Lee Seo Neo, paid for the construction of a female ward in 1858. Tan Kim Cheng also paid an additional $3,340 when the Chief Engineer saw that the building would cost more than the given budget. In June 1861, the patients were moved to the new hospital which had two new wards: one for lepers and the other for women. The hospital was designed by the same architect, John Turnbull Thomson. It gained the nickname Rumah Miskin or "House of the Poor". Living conditions at the hospital however did not improve with the move as cleanliness was very difficult to enforce among the patients. Many of them ran away from the hospital, exposing their sores as they begged for money. When rattan strokes as punishment was introduced for these runaways, some of them began to hang themselves out of sheer despair. Many of them, being ex-convicts, turned back to crime for money.
Reorganisation and expansion of Tan Tock Seng Hospital
In 1867, the Straits Settlements became a Crown Colony, under the Colonial Office in London. A new governor, Sir Henry St. George Ord, took over the Straits Settlements. In 1873, the hospital was placed under the direct supervision of a government official. This move was the first direct governmental support for the institution. Things improved from then on. In 1879, Tan Beng Swee, a philanthropist, bore the cost of the construction of three new wards, and the Chinese community donated $15,000 to the hospital.
In 1882, 444 cases of malaria and 50 cases of beri-beri were recorded. The number of malaria cases was considered unusually high. Sited at low grounds, the lack of proper drainage for rain water perhaps contributed to mosquito breeding. In 1904, to curb the spread of beri-beri, the hospital committee suggested a new site for the hospital, between Moulmein Road and Balestier Road. The new hospital received a generous injection of funds of $50,000 by Loke Yew. This was used to purchase land for the hospital. In 1909, the new Tan Tock Seng Hospital was constructed along Moulmein Road. Occupying an area of around 1.05 ha and populated by 1,028 beds in different blocks, it was designed and built by the Public Works Department. The building, built in cast iron and timber, had an unpretentious but attractive facade. New wings were added to the hospital in 1919 and a 6-storey Main Ward Block was built in 1956. Old wards were demolished to pave way for the construction of five new blocks in the late 1980s. During the Japanese Occupation, the hospital was renamed as Hakuai Byoin, meaning "Universal Love Hospital", and was the main civilian hospital at that time.
In 1961, the hospital was taken over fully by the government. A new building was proposed in the early 1990s to keep up with modern management and technology. The construction of this S$580 million building, at Jalan Tan Tock Seng, started in 1994 and was completed in 1999. Officially opened on 1 April 1999 by Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, the new hospital became fully operational in May 1999. With the move, the hospital redesigned itself, adopting a new logo as well.
Description & Facilities
Tan Tock Seng Hospital, a 15-storey building, has a total floor area of 19,000 m2. It has 1,211 beds in 34 wards and is made up of four blocks. The hospital is also home to a small museum housing artefacts related to health care.
On 1 April 1992, the hospital was re-structured. The hospital become a regional and national referral centre for five core disciplines: Rheumatology & Immunology, Respiratory Medicine, Geriatric Medicine, Rehabilitation Medicine and Neurosciences. New one-stop clinic services were introduced by the hospital from 1993 onwards. They include the Continence Clinic, Memory Clinic, Diabetic Clinic, Stoma Clinic, Breast Clinic, Vascular Clinic and Voice Restoration Clinic. On similar lines, TTSH introduced one-stop centres from 1994 onwards: Laser Bronchology Suite, Neurodiagnostic Laboratory and Non-invasive Cardiac Laboratory. In 1995, the Communicable Diseases Centre (CDC) was restructured and was put directly under the administration of the Tan Tock Seng Hospital. In 2000, TTSH became a member of the National Healthcare Group.
The Tan Tock Seng Hospital has scored several firsts in the medical world. It produced the island's first batch of medical students in 1910. A medical school was set up in 1905 at Sepoy Lanes and clinical teaching classes were established at TTSH in 1907. In 1930, the hospital set up laboratories and X-ray facilities. This formed the base of its tuberculosis treatment facility, and in 1949, the hospital was designated as a centre for tuberculosis (TB) treatment. In 1997, TTSH came up with a new programme called the Singapore Tuberculosis Elimination Programme (STEP) which aimed at eradicating TB from Singapore completely. The programme was launched nation-wide in 1998.
In 1967, the hospital made news when it performed the first open heart surgery in Singapore. In 1976, it followed with the first coronary by-pass surgery to be performed in Singapore. In 1985, the hospital became the first to perform a bone marrow transplant in Singapore. In 1990, the hospital made news again with a unique surgery. Dr. Lee Kheng Hin made use of CT-directed stereostatic system to locate and remove a small and deeply located brain tumour. This surgery was the first of its kind to be performed in Southeast Asia.
In 2003, the hospital and its staff were at the forefront in the fight against SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) in Singapore. The CDC at the hospital became a diagnosis centre for patients suspected of SARS, and patients diagnosed with SARS in Singapore were isolated and quarantined in the Tan Tock Seng Hospital.
1844: Hospital first established at Pearl's Hill.
1849: The hospital gets its first patients.
1857: Hospital is moved to Balestier Plain.
1909: Hospital is moved to Moulmein Road.
1910: First batch of medical students pass out.
1967: First open-heart surgery in Singapore is performed.
1972: A Department of Neurosurgery and Neurology is established.
1989: Opens the first Geriatric unit in Singapore.
1994: The first hospital in Singapore to register on the internet.
1996: First hospital in the region to use functional MRI in the treatment of stroke, epilepsy and tumour.
1997: First hospital in the region to use intra-operative portable mobile CT scanner to remove brain tumours.
2000: Hospital becomes a member of National Healthcare Group.
Naidu Ratnala Thulaja
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(Call no.: SING 362.11095957 LEE)
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(Call no.: RCLOS 610.95957 LEE)
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(Call no.: RCLOS 610.95957 GEN)
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The information in this article is valid as at 2000 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.
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