Note: The following was penned by Dr Siew Tuck Wah, medical director and founder of Radium Medical Aesthetics
This morning, we were informed by the Ministry of Health that aesthetic clinics CANNOT resume operations after the circuit breaker ends on 1 June 2020. The news came as a heavy blow. 2 months with no income and continued overheads was a struggle. But this third month is going to be much worse.
The first 2 months of circuit breaker saw businesses receiving help in the form of rental rebates from landlords, and wage support schemes initiated by the government. A third month of not operating will mean we have to continue with zero revenue, but without any financial help. Running costs such as rental, manpower, loans all add up to $160,000 - $180,000 a month for an aesthetic clinic like mine. Then there are the consumables, such as toxins, fillers and threads, some of which do not possess long shelf lives. The value of consumables that have expired or are close to expiry already amount to more than $10,000. The common misconception is that aesthetic clinics make a lot of money. In fact, most of the revenue go into purchasing consumables, wages, rental and upgrading of machines in a rapidly evolving field, where customers are always embracing newer, better technology.
As doctors, we entirely understand the need for social distancing. Indeed, a 2-month lockdown is necessary to stem the spread of Covid-19. But now, I cannot help but feel that these harsh measures imposed on aesthetic clinics from the ministry are driven by more than just public health considerations.
Singapore is going to re-open in 3 phases. In the first phase, which will last at least 4 weeks from 1 June, all hair dressing services, including dyeing and perming hair, will resume. Healthcare services such as specialist outpatient services, medical procedures, allied health services, and Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) including needle acupuncture for all conditions, will be allowed. The risk of spread of Covid-19 in hair salons and other healthcare services is equal to, or perhaps greater than that in an aesthetic clinic. I will explain why.
As fully qualified doctors who have received 6 years of education and several more years in training, we of all people know what measures are necessary to maintain the highest standard of hygiene and to curb the spread of communicable diseases in our clinics. Spacing out appointments, sterilisation of surfaces before and after every patient, restriction of movements, and changing of bedsheets after each patient has passed through are examples of measures many clinics, including ours, are already currently implementing since the COVID-19 first reared its head. There is no logical reason why businesses such hair salons can open, while aesthetic clinics can't. We fall into “healthcare services”, we perform “medical procedures”, and we implement “safe work” measures - we have more than sufficiently met all conditions required for enterprises to reopen in Phase 1 come post circuit breaker.
It is not entirely true to say that the services rendered by aesthetic clinics are not essential. My patients have exclaimed that to them, coming for treatments in my clinic is “absolutely essential”. But jokes aside, conditions such as rosacea and acne need to be treated as they can flare up. Acne, in particular, could possibly cause permanent disfigurement, if left untreated. Others patients who have problems with sensitive skin need regular reviews and treatments. All of them are now unable to do so.
The implications of a 3 month closure go beyond sagging skin, or hideous wrinkles from lack of Botox. Now we are forced to consider what we have been trying to avoid for months - getting our staff to go on no pay leave (NPL), or worse, downsizing and retrenchment of staff. The Ministry is forcing us into a corner, such that we can no longer protect the staff we promised to look after under our care. Some of our staff are local folks, while others come from Malaysia seeking a better life. The skies are about to turn real dark for reasons we cannot fathom, other than a deliberate attempt to single out the medical aesthetic industry. Or perhaps a desperate attempt to conserve manpower on the frontlines (Many aesthetic doctors are volunteering at the frontline during the circuit breaker period). But those are unfair reasons. Aesthetic doctors have pledged to continue helping out at the frontlines even after 1 June, and even though we deal with cosmetic problems, we still steadfastly uphold the ethics of being a doctor.
I started this clinic from scratch with no savings after spending a year doing charity work. I come from a poor family. I had to take a loan. Until today, I am still servicing that loan. I have worked every single day of the week for the past 4 years to keep the clinic, and the staff under me, fed. Yes, I am a doctor, and yes, Radium Medical Aesthetics is a clinic. But we are not spared from mundane needs to make ends meet. We are subject to the same financial stresses that all business in Singapore face. Not allowing us to resume operations of any sort after the circuit breaker is devastating, and unfair to us. We will not be able to survive for much longer.