The Singapore General Hospital (SGH) that is known today is a far cry from its beginnings in 1821. Formed shortly after Sir Stamford Raffles landed on Singapore soil, that first hospital was largely for the military, with sections for European soldiers, sepoys (Indian soldiers serving under the Europeans) and poor locals.
Sited around the Bras Basah and Stamford Road areas, the hospital was rebuilt and moved several times before eventually settling down in the Outram area. The SGH that started to bear some resemblance to the present complex can be traced to 1926, when three large building blocks were erected.
When the hospital, including its Upper, Middle and Lower Blocks, opened, 500 of the 800 beds were already occupied. It took in trainee doctors, the first batch of whom included Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares and Professor Edward S Monteiro. Dr Sheares, who was to become Singapore’s second President, joined the government service after his final examinations in 1929. In pre-independent Singapore, non-British doctors were appointed as Assistant Medical Officers at a starting salary of $250 per month, versus double that for their British counterparts.
The three buildings were later renamed Bowyer, Stanley and Norris, after Dr John Herbert Bowyer, Dr Cuthbert Stanley and Dr Victor Norris — doctors who perished during World War II. Norris and Stanley Blocks were demolished in the 1970s and only part of Bowyer Block remains. The two-storey block, built in the neoclassical style, features a distinctive clock tower and was gazetted as a national monument on 11 November 2009.
On 31 March 2000, following a major reorganisation of the public sector healthcare services, SGH came under the management of Singapore Health Services. SingHealth now includes four hospitals, five national specialty centres and eight polyclinics.
Today, new and larger buildings on SGH Campus are being built to accommodate a growing population that includes a rapidly ageing segment. On 5 February 2016, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong unveiled the SGH Campus Master Plan to redevelop the 43-hectare campus into three interconnected zones for patient care, research and education.
The Master Plan will be implemented in two key phases over the next two decades, including relocating SGH closer to MRT stations. By 2026, the Campus will house a new Elective Care Centre and National Dental Centre Singapore; National Cancer Centre Singapore, and a new Emergency Medicine Building. Other institutions on SGH Campus, including Outram Community Hospital, Duke-NUS Medical School, Academia, and National Heart Centre Singapore, were completed in the past decade.
SGH’s history over the years has been closely entwined with historical events in Singapore. Addressing public healthcare has always been its core function. It has responded to other needs, such as caring for soldiers during World War II, attending to victims of riots and other disasters, as well as training the next generations of healthcare experts.
The hospital remains a leading teaching hospital for both undergraduate and postgraduate medical training, and for advanced training for specialist doctors, nurses and allied health professionals locally and from the region. Students from institutes of higher learning spend a substantial part of their curriculum in SGH. The hospital’s medical staff in turn hold teaching positions at the schools.
SGH staff publish copious amounts of research in peer-reviewed international publications as clinical research takes root as part of the hospital’s institutional practice. The hospital leverages its multidisciplinary capabilities, depth of specialisation, a large patient base and its research affiliations with renowned centres in Singapore and globally.
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