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'Unfair to those who queue properly': TCM patients upset by use of items to reserve slots at free clinic in Bukit Batok

'Unfair to those who queue properly': TCM patients upset by use of items to reserve slots at free clinic in Bukit Batok
Patients of a free TCM clinic in Bukit Batok would use items such as packet drinks and umbrellas to reserve a spot in the line.
PHOTO: Shin Min Daily News

When Bukit Batok resident Huang recently went to queue at a free TCM clinic in her neighbourhood in the early morning, she found water bottles, canned food, packet drinks and umbrellas on the bench outside.

The items are used by other patients who do not wish to physically wait in line to reserve an appointment slot at Thong Chai Medical Institution.

"I once arrived before 5am and found miscellaneous things already placed on the bench," the 68-year-old retiree told Shin Min Daily News.

It was not a new problem, despite the clinic, which is located at Block 167 Bukit Batok West Avenue 8, repeatedly reminding patients not to reserve spots with their items.

Last April, the Chinese evening daily reported that patients used plastic bags, water bottles and backpacks to secure their places in the queue.

But the problem has not only persisted, but has worsened over the past year, according to Huang.

She said that patients hoping to secure earlier treatment slots would 'queue' from the wee hours of the morning, while those who want afternoon slots would turn up with their items in the morning.

The clinic's operating hours are from 7.30am to 4.15pm on weekdays, with registration for the morning and afternoon sessions starting at 7.30am and 12.30pm respectively. It is open only in the morning on Saturdays, and closed on Sundays and public holidays.

"This is unfair to those who queue properly," Huang lamented, adding that she often gets a late slot because of the 'queue cutters' and once waited six hours for her turn to consult a physician.

Notice dissuading queue hogging changed 4 times by clinic

When a Shin Min reporter visited the clinic on Monday (July 8), patients confirmed that the reservation of slots with items was a common sight.

One patient surnamed Ma, 68, said several people would group together and place items on the seats.

Disputes have arisen when other patients queuing in-person throw away the items, and counter staff at the clinic would have to step in to mediate.

Thong Chai Medical Institution also runs four other free clinics across the island. 

Chan Zhihao, the supervisor at the Bukit Batok branch, told Shin Min that they have placed a notice outside the clinic reminding patients of queue etiquette.

"We are aware of the seat reservation problem and are doing our best to resolve it, but it is difficult for us to manage the situation outside when we are working," he said.

Chan added that the notice has been changed four times since the clinic opened in 2020.

The latest version of the notice, dated July 2, urges patients not to cut queue, reserve seats in advance or queue for someone else. Patients can inform the counter staff of violations, and staff have the final say in disputes over the queue situation.

Each person will only be given one appointment slot and troublemakers will be handed over to the police, adds the notice.

ALSO READ: Woman 'confused' by patients using bottles to queue for treatment at Sengkang free clinic, says it's 'unfair'

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