NS trainees: safety, health main priorities

We refer to the letter Don’t trust NS camp people.

We would like to stress that the National Service Programme has a very strict and clear protocols on managing health problems among trainees of the National Service Programme. The National Service Programme has always regards the safety and health of all the trainees as the main priority in ensuring the success of the programme and all NS camps must abide to the protocols under the NS Programme.

Under the Safety and Health Protocol of the National Service Programme, any trainee encountering health problem will be referred to the medical unit which is permanently stationed in the compound of all camps on a 24-hour basis. The trainee will be provided with the highest medical attention and diagnosed for levels of their illness. Under the Protocol, should the problems continue or the initial diagnosis is chronic, the Medical Officers will immediately refer the case to the nearest hospital for further treatment.

Currently, each camp has a Medical Unit that comprises 3 Medical Assistants and two training nurses to accommodate to the various health issues of the trainees. Furthermore, under the protocol, for minor illness which do not require hospitalisation, parents of the trainee will be not be alerted by the camp authorities as all camps are equipped with qualified Medical Unit. For chronic cases that require hospitalisation, parents of the trainees will be promptly informed by the camp authorities as stated in the protocols.

Should there be a breach of protocols in the cases of handling the health problems of the trainees, an investigation will and have been conducted. Negligence among the NS camp staff is highly intolerable and strict action will and has always been conducted to ensure that the safety and health condition of the trainees are at the top of their priority.

However, we would like to stress that NS trainees should be honest in declaring the state of their health before entering the camps. At present, medical checks for every trainee prior to entering camp is not compulsory as the Ministry of Health could not agree with the proposal when the matter was raised in 2004. However, we are currently revisiting the issue and hope to get it finalised soon.

Health conditions do play an important role in determining the status of participation of NS trainees. There were cases where exemptions were provided to potential trainees due to the fact that their health conditions would not allow them to participate. Currently, we are developing a proposal and enhancement measures to address the health problems of the trainees through more stringent medical checks at national services camps.

With a qualified medical unit to conduct such checks, we believe that all NS camps are capable of managing health problems among the trainees. We have also introduced a self-health tagging system for unhealthy trainees or those suffering from non-chronic illnesses to exempt them from strenuous physical activities.

In addition, the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health, the NS Security Consultant, had introduced a security audit system on the physical training facilities at all NS camps. Results from the audit will be used to improve safety measures and health protocols.

We understand the reservations and feedback of some parents of the safety and health of their children while in the National Service Programme. We highly welcome these feedback and thank them for your concerns to ensure that the NS Programme is safe for our children. We ensure you that we have and are always upgrading our protocols and safety measures in ensuring the problems of our trainees are resolved, especially in the health-related matters.

The safety and health of our trainees is our main priority as we understand it reflects the success of the NS programme and the National Agenda.

The writer is director-general, National Service, Ministry of Defence.