The story of KK Women's and Children's Hospital is the story of maternity and baby care in Singapore. It’s also a story of significant medical highlights
Back in the colonial days, a General Hospital was built in the Kandang Kerbau District. It was segregated into two sections – one section for the Europeans (the Seaman’s Hospital) and the other for the locals (the Police Hospital).
In an attempt to control the spread of venereal disease, the female ward of the hospital was converted into a Lock Hospital, for compulsory screening and treatment of women with venereal diseases.
With a change in the law, compulsory screening and treatment were stopped. The facilities at the Lock Hospital were then used as a home for women and girls.
Female pauper patients from Tan Tock Seng Hospital were transferred to the General Hospital at Kandang Kerbau District. Subsequently, the hospital was also used to house female lepers and poor children. It eventually became the Pauper Hospital for Women and Children.
The Pauper Hospital for Women and Children was converted into a free maternity hospital – a hospital for the poor who could not afford to pay the medical fees. On 1 October 1924, Kandang Kerbau Hospital (KK Hospital) was opened with 30 beds and 12 children’s cots. The hospital was led by Professor J S English, Singapore’s first Professor of O&G. On that momentous day, five babies were born – three Malays, one Chinese and a Japanese. In those days, maternal and infant mortality rates were high. The hospital’s mission then was to provide good maternity care and midwifery training for medical students and pupil midwives to bring the mortality rates down.
Half of the 11,206 babies born in Singapore were delivered at KK.
During World War II, KK was converted into an Emergency General Hospital for the treatment of war casualties. It became known as Chua Byoin (Central Hospital) during the Japanese Occupation, and served as a General Hospital for Japanese civilians and the local community. The late Dr Benjamin Henry Sheares, who became Singapore’s Second President in 1971, was its Deputy Medical Superintendent then.
After the war was over, KK remained as the Civil General Hospital until 1 July 1946. It then resumed its function as the only O&G hospital serving the country.
In the post war years, births averaged over 1,000 a month (13,238 for the year) in the 240-bed hospital. The labour wards were so overcrowded that patients were delivered on trolley beds. To ease the shortage of beds, the length of stay of each patient was shortened from 10 – 12 days to three days.
The School of Midwifery was set up.
To cope with the high demand for beds, the Domiciliary Aftercare service was started. It looked after women who had been discharged 24 hours after confinement. The patients were carefully selected and if their homes were found suitable, they were brought home by ambulance. Midwives would visit them at home and report any abnormality to the hospital for follow-up action. Each day, about 20 – 30 women were discharged to be cared for by this service.
In August, the Domiciliary Delivery service was introduced. Women who had received antenatal care at the hospital were given the option of hospital delivery or home delivery, after assessment of the suitability of their homes for delivery. In September, the service saw the delivery of its first baby. A new extension to the building was also added. This saw an increase in beds, new operating theatres, an X-ray department and clinics for women and children.
To meet the needs of newborns, nurseries were equipped for specialised care for the sick and premature babies. Incubators were used for the first time in the premature baby nurseries. This helped to lower the infant mortality.
The bed capacity was increased to 438 beds.
All the hospital’s wards, two operating theatres for gynaecology, two theatres for obstetrics and two minor operating theatres were opened. The hospital was reorganised into three training units – University Unit, and Training Units A and B. Under this new structure, the three units concentrated on complicated cases and the training of doctors, while the Maternity Home Unit undertook the bulk of routine delivery.
As a result of the reorganisation, posts in the Training Units were recognised by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG).
A Blood Transfusion Service branch in the hospital was opened and a Cytology Unit was set up. Antenatal classes were also started by the Physiotherapy Department.
The number of deliveries continued to rise, reaching a record high of 39,835. This won KK Hospital a place in the Guinness Book of Records for having the largest number of births in a single maternity facility in that year – a record it held for ten years. More than 85% of all the births took place in KK, where over 100 babies were delivered daily.
As the number of births started to decrease, the hospital’s Domiciliary Delivery and Domiciliary Aftercare services were no longer needed and stopped.
Following the success of the nation’s family planning programmes in the 1970s, the total number of births at KKH fell below 30,000 for the first time.
In February, the School of Midwifery at KK Hospital was transferred to the School of Nursing at the Singapore General Hospital, and the school building demolished.
The hospital’s University Unit moved to the National University Hospital.
On 1 April 1990, KK ended its 132-year history as a government hospital and embarked on a new chapter in its history as a restructured hospital. The O&G and Neonatology Departments from Toa Payoh and Alexandra Hospitals moved to KK. With optimal consolidation of expertise and resources, three O&G departments were created to focus on subspecialty interests -- Maternal Fetal Medicine, Gynaecological Oncology & Urogynaecology, and Reproductive Medicine.
Construction on a new building for the new hospital began.
KK launches Asia’s first (and the first outside the USA) O&G World Wide Web information service. It also becomes the first medical institution in Singapore to provide patient and public education in cyberspace.
As a natural extension of the services that KKH was providing for women and their newborns, paediatric services were introduced. The paediatric medical services from three national hospitals were centralised at KKH.
KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH) was born. Housed in its new premises at 100 Bukit Timah Road, the hospital included Singapore’s first and only purpose-built Children’s Hospital. The Children’s Hospital, which sees children from birth to 16 years old, is a tertiary referral centre for paediatric bone marrow transplants and open-heart surgeries. It is also a primary paediatric teaching hospital of the National University of Singapore, Faculty of Medicine.
The hospital's unique architectural design bags an award at the Singapore Architectural Design Awards for affording both patients and staff an excellent working environment departing from the traditional sterile environments of hospitals.
The nation’s first Child Safety Centre opens. A programme of the hospital, it educates parents on making the home and road environments safer for children to reduce the incidence of childhood injuries.
The hospital wins the Family Friendly Firm Award for a second time.
The old Kandang Kerbau Hospital, birthplace of over 1.2 million Singaporeans, is now a historic site marked by the National Heritage Board. This is in recognition of the hospital's contribution to the provision of obstetrical and gynaecological care in Singapore since 1858. The hospital is also re-certified as a People Developer company by SPRING Singapore.
KKH won the Best Work-Life Balance Practices Award at the HRM Singapore Awards. On 20 October, the KK Alumni is established to encourage networking among former and present KKH staff. This is to generate ideas and initiatives in the areas of continuing medical education, training, technology and outreach to the community.
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