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By Jessica Jaganathan

PRIVATE doctors are flocking to the Novena area as the squeeze on clinic space in the Orchard Road belt tightens.

The migration could turn the area into Singapore's newest centre for private health services, some believe.

In the space of two years, developer Far East Organization has already sold or leased 92 per cent of the 145 medical suites at its new Novena Medical Centre (NMC).
Private doctors at the centre, which opened last October, are allowed to use some X-ray machines and labs in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), which is just across the street.

Developers in the area are also setting space aside for private doctors, as well as accommodation for patients and their families.

The spill-over of demand has prompted Far East to house another 64 clinics in its 28-storey hotel in nearby Sinaran Drive. The group plans to either sell or lease the suites when ready, which is likely to be by 2010.

In Newton Road, SC Global Developments will also save space for medical suites in its upcoming office building, Newton 200.
Private specialists can also look to the Parkway Group's new hospital in Irrawaddy Road, which is scheduled to open in July 2011. The group is setting aside 30 per cent of its space for them.

Medical suites in Novena occupy about one-third of the space that clinics in Orchard do. At about 24,154 sq m in total, they cover about the same area as Clarke Quay.
This spate of activity is fuelled by the Government's plan to attract one million foreign patients a year by 2012.

Mr G.L. Yap, executive director for Far East Organization's property services, said: 'The infrastructure has to keep pace with expectations of growth.'
Foreign patients number more than 400,000 a year and come mainly from Indonesia and Malaysia, with increasing numbers from China, the Middle East and developed countries. They come for a range of treatments, including day surgery and routine health checks.

Spending on so-called medical tourism averaged about $1.3 billion in 2006 and is expected to double by 2012, according to Dr Jason Yap, director of health-care services at the Singapore Tourism Board.

The space crunch is already being felt by medical centres at Mount Elizabeth, Gleneagles, Paragon and Camden.

Company officials say that, save for three units, the buildings have been totally sold or leased out. While Paragon declined to say how many units it has, the three other centres have more than 540 suites.

The demand for medical suites has been pushing rents up, said property analysts. In the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, a suite was last sold for $5,000 psf, up from $4,017 last March.

Colorectal surgeon Francis Seow-Choen bought a unit at Novena two years ago because of high rents. For the past four years, he has also been renting a unit at the Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, where rents have risen to about $18 psf, from about $8 psf four years ago.

'The rents here have risen astronomically,' said Dr Seow-Choen. 'Instead of being subjected to market forces, I've decided to buy a unit in Novena, which as an area has a lot of potential.'

The Singapore Medical Group moved its Sports Medicine Centre from Paragon to the NMC this year, because of the space crunch and the area's attraction as a sports and medical hub.

Dr Jimmy Lim, a cardiologist who crossed over from TTSH to set up his own clinic at the NMC, said the new clinic allows his previous patients to visit him.
'Having a restructured hospital and now a private hospital nearby is basically going to give my patients a wider choice when they use the in-patient facility,' he said.

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