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Leading with optimism

As Professor Ng Wai Hoe, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Changi General Hospital (CGH), wraps up his time at the Caring General Hospital, he shares his memorable journey and heartfelt reflections.


From clinician scientist to healthcare leader

Inspired by his interest in dismantling and assembling electronics, and a fascination with neuroscience as a student, Prof Ng Wai Hoe made his choice to pursue neurosurgery, a marriage of neuroscience and surgery. A passionate storyteller with a flair for writing, Prof Ng has also been prolific in scientific publishing, having produced numerous high impact factor scientific papers over the years.

2012 was a watershed year for Prof Ng as he made the vital switch from an academic and clinical career to also become an administrator and a leader at the National Neuroscience Institute. He took up his next leadership role in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic when he was appointed CEO (Designate) of CGH in May 2020, and subsequently CEO in July 2020.


The immediate challenge for him was facing off against the COVID-19 battle. He recognised how crucial it was to rally the CGH care team to care for patients not only in the hospital, but also in the community. Besides adapting to the needs on hospital grounds, the CGH care team was deeply involved in organising operations in external COVID-19 facilities, including managing care for migrant workers at their dormitories, as well as administering vaccinations and performing swab operations in the community.


Prof Ng (left) sharing with Mr Ong Ye Kung, Minister for Health, on how CGH’s Emergency Department was managing the patient load during the pandemic.


“We did not know how long-drawn the pandemic would be, but everyone at CGH was motivated to chip in and go the extra mile to care for our patients,” says Prof Ng. “We had to do all these while balancing the needs of our regular patients who had other diseases, and maintain regular operations and services. It was not easy, but we did our best to ensure that the morale and welfare of our colleagues were looked after.”

 From bland to glam

Another key challenge of rebuilding and enhancing the reputation of the hospital awaited Prof Ng. “There was a constant negative refrain on what the letters ‘CGH‘ stood for, and some of our own colleagues started believing in it, bringing about a lack of confidence in our own abilities,” says Prof Ng. Examining the hospital’s capabilities and competencies, Prof Ng recognised that CGH has many talented people, and the hospital’s clinical outcomes are on par with or even better than that of other healthcare institutions.

Taking the bull by the horns, Prof Ng supported branding efforts and initiated visioning exercises to dispel misperceptions about the hospital, and over time, this has borne fruit. “There is a change in perception of CGH, with many patients saying that we now stand for ‘Can Go Home’, and our colleagues are acknowledging their abilities and the hospital’s capabilities in providing trusted care for patients.”


From hospital to home

Part of this seismic shift in perception was made easier by CGH’s legacy of constantly pushing to stay ahead of the demands of the dynamic healthcare landscape. A forerunner of population health, CGH had long been developing its community programmes and collaborations with community partners — even before the broader concept of population health becomes widely understood.


In the last three years, some of CGH’s community programmes such as CareLine, GPFirst and EAGLEcare have won national accolades and expanded to become national-level programmes. “To meet the needs of the older demographic, CGH also established a dedicated multi-disciplinary wound healing centre and the CGH-NNI Integrated Spine Centre,” says Prof Ng. CGH’s dedication to community health has also seen it dive into and thrive in non-traditional disciplines such as aviation medicine and correctional medicine.

From old to gold

Another area that CGH has been powering up on is the integration of automation and robotics into its care process, which reduces manual or repetitive work and streamlines processes, transforming the way we work. These innovative solutions augment the care team throughout the hospital. For instance, a group of robots streamlines processes at the Emergency Department to enhance patient experiences, and social robots carry out physical and cognitive activities with patients with functional decline, dementia or delirium. Such strategic directions and robotic initiatives — as well as its focus on Artificial Intelligence, innovation and research — have earned CGH the recognition of being one of the smartest hospitals globally, as ranked by Newsweek.

Since the days of the old Changi Hospital and Toa Payoh Hospital, CGH has had a history of innovation. “The spirit of enterprise and innovation is embedded in our DNA,” says Prof Ng. “We innovate healthcare for tomorrow by driving research, innovation, enterprise and education, to transform and enhance care delivery and patient outcomes. Our healthcare systems must continue to evolve as we face the challenges of a super-aged society.” Care models can be redesigned to better the health of patients and communities, complemented by the use of technology to humanise healthcare.

Prof Ng and the care team with some of CGH’s many robots.

As a smart and caring hospital, there is a need to balance the ‘cold and efficient technology’ with the ‘warmth of the human touch’. “It is not about pitting them against each other, but finding ways for both to improve patient care, safety and outcomes, as well as make our work more efficient,” says Prof Ng. “I believe the way to do it is to scan the horizon for the next five to 10 years and ask ourselves what innovations or technologies are needed to achieve that.”

Developing talent and creating joy

To continue to strengthen CGH’s best practices and patient outcomes, Prof Ng believes that talent development plays an important role. “We need to have a pipeline of talent for the hospital, and invest time and resources to support them,” says Prof Ng. “It is also important to have in place an ecosystem where our staff have opportunities to grow and showcase their abilities. Partnerships also provide our care team with the platforms to be involved in research and innovation.”

As the nation eased back to the post-pandemic new normal in 2023, CGH celebrated its 88-year legacy of trusted care with the launch of the CGH Life Video, the unveiling of Singapore’s largest community mural, the world record-setting of the Largest Senior Citizen’s Health Awareness Lesson, and painting of the CGH Heritage and Legacy wall art.

That’s not to say that Prof Ng’s tenure at CGH has been all work and no play. On April Fool’s Day, Prof Ng sent an email to CGH staff saying that the year’s Family Day would be taking place at the old Changi Hospital, rumoured to be one of the most haunted places in Singapore. “It was amusing to see the responses that came back,” says Prof Ng with a laugh. “That brought people together and generated more excitement for CGH’s 88th anniversary celebrations.”

Prof Ng, who gamely dressed up as Captain America, with Mr Cheng Wai Keung, SingHealth Chairman (far left) and long-serving staff at the CGH 88th Anniversary Dinner & Dance.

On what makes CGH unique, Prof Ng finds that the hospital has a nice family vibe to it. “I appreciate the openness in CGH. Our care team is truly sincere, nice, and welcoming.”

Prof Ng’s work as CEO of CGH earned him the Most People-Focused CEO Award at the HR Excellence Awards 2023.

“In my time at CGH, I believe we have become an organisation that is forward-thinking, optimistic, with a growth mindset and winning attitude. My hope and aspiration for CGH is for us to continue to be even more so in the years to come.”

Prof Ng takes on the appointment as the Group Chief Executive Officer of SingHealth on 1 February 2024, with Assoc Prof Ng Kee Chong taking over the reins as CEO of CGH.

Leading with optimism