Public and Private Hospitals in Singapore - Key Differences Expats Should Know

Public and private hospitals in Singapore - Key differences expats should know

When it comes to Singapore health insurance, many expats in the city may not think about it much. More often than not, their employers will provide them with a private health insurance plan that can be used effectively inside of the city-state. What these people may not realize, however, is that – even with Singapore medical insurance in place – they may not have full access to all of the medical facilities that the nation has to offer.

This is because there are many differences between the public and private hospitals that can be found in Singapore. With this in mind, we present the below information on the differences between public and private hospitals in Singapore, as well as how all of this relates to Singapore health insurance.

Let’s dig into the differences!

Wait times

When it comes to wait times in Singapore hospitals, it should come as no surprise that the country operates in a very similar way to other countries that have both a public and private healthcare system. What one will find when looking at this locales, such as Canada, Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands, and more, is that public hospitals simply take longer to receive care in.

At the end of September 2017, the Ministry of Health (MOH) has produced some statistics on the topic of wait times in public hospitals, as they observed the average time that it took during a particular week for patients to go from emergency department doctor visit to ward admittance. While a couple of the hospitals observed – namely Changi General Hospital and Khoo Teck Puta Hospital – saw days where the wait was less than an hour, other hospitals consistently made people wait one to four hours for admittance. One hospital in particular, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, even saw an average wait time of well over five hours!

At private hospitals, on the other hand, patients can safely expect that they will be admitted to the hospital well within an hour of seeing an emergency room doctor.


Along with the above point in favor of private hospitals in Singapore, patients requiring non-emergency care can also expect shorter wait times simply by virtue of the fact that private medical facilities allow for appointments. Patients can then show up at the predetermined time to see their doctor, who will be expecting them.

Public hospitals, on the other hand, are entirely on a first come, first served basis. Depending on the foot traffic that day, wait times can vary widely, and one can never be quite sure of what to expect.


So once a patient does get admitted to a Singapore hospital room, what can they expect? In public hospitals, it can be safely assumed that even the pricier rooms will need to be shared with at least three or more other people, at least if the patient wants to use their Medisave benefits. Public facilities do have single rooms available in the A class wards, though many local Singaporeans are inclined to use the class B2 or lower wards in order to have as much of the cost as possible subsidized.

As far as private hospitals, no subsidy is given at all, so patients should be well aware of the costs for the different types of rooms available. Private hospitals in Singapore have a plethora of modern amenities that will generally lead to greater comfort for patients and their families alike. For example, Gleneagles even has a living room area available in their best suite, which also comes with an in-room Nespresso machine.


Staff in public hospitals in Singapore are very well trained and up to the highest standards of medical care globally. What patients will find, however, is that there are doctors in the public system that are relatively new to medicine. Additionally, many doctors in public hospitals receive a large majority or all of their training in Singapore.

By contrast, doctors in private hospitals are generally more experienced. Once a doctor in Singapore has enough knowledge and renown, he or she is likely to be attracted to the private sector due to the increased monetary benefits that can be found there. Additionally, doctors in private hospitals may be attracted to an appointment-based system that can lighten their workload. This allows doctors in private hospitals to spend more time with patients, and patients are generally more satisfied with the experience, especially when it comes to them feeling like all of their concerns have been addressed.

Doctors in private hospitals in Singapore will also on average have received more of their training abroad, and, as such, attend top medical schools around the world and have a better command of foreign languages.


In addition to doctors in Singapore’s private hospitals being more likely to speak foreign languages, hospital staff in general tend to be better suited to speak with non-Singaporeans when compared with public hospitals. No doubt, this fact has been exacerbated by medical tourism trend, and private hospitals focus on attracting foreign patients. In order to better be able to address their needs, private hospitals are incentivized to hire staff that speak multiple languages.


While the Singapore government has done a great job of ensuring that public hospitals in the city have modern medical equipment in order to perform cutting edge procedures for their patients, you will find the very best in such technology in the country’s private hospitals. Private hospitals simply take in more money, so they have more to spend on new or updated equipment. As well, private hospitals will have less bureaucracy to deal with, and, therefore, less red tape to go through when it comes time to decide whether to purchase equipment or not.

Proximity of public and private facilities

Not that this point will make a huge difference to many people in Singapore, but every person should consider how close their homes and places of work are to which types of hospitals. As of the time of this article’s writing, there are seven public hospitals in Singapore, and ten private. While this makes it more likely that the nearest major private hospital to you in private in nature, patients should know for sure what their preferred option is and where they will need to go to receive the care they prefer.


This may be true in virtually all countries with both public and private healthcare systems, but the general motivations of the two types of hospitals should still be mentioned. To be sure, there are different ways to approach the argument of a hospital’s motivations. Some people will argue that private hospitals are primarily profit-driven. In this case, it can be argued that decisions about the patient’s care will largely be made based on their ability to pay, and care can be cut short if this is a concern.

On the other hand, others will state that this leads to private facilities providing better service overall, as they must compete for a patient’s business. Meanwhile, public hospitals may be so concerned with addressing all patients that their customer service will lag behind.

Subsidized care

Last but not least, the ability to subsidize healthcare costs is very important to mention. Singaporeans can use their Medisave accounts and other government programs and subsidies to receive low cost care from public hospitals, as long as they adhere to guidelines, such as the previously mentioned room sharing. Private hospitals, however, do not allow for these types of subsidies at all. This fact is especially relevant because the cost of medical care in private hospitals is much more expensive than that found in public hospitals, even without any subsidies.

While it is clear that patients in public hospitals can save a lot of money vis-à-vis their counterparts in private hospitals, it is important to note that many expatriates in Singapore will have zero access to publicly subsidized healthcare. Only expats with Permanent Resident (PR) status will have such access. For this reason, it is very important for expats in Singapore, especially newer ones, to have private health insurance in order to address the high cost of medical treatment in the city’s private hospitals.