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From preparing meals to distributing medical scrubs: A look at SGH’s underground operations


SINGAPORE: The constant movement of staff members and patients is a common sight at hospitals but at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), the hustle and bustle continues underground.

On Monday (Nov 20), members of the media were given an exclusive tour of the hospital tunnel network that spans about 2.5km.

Built in 1975, the tunnel has been a part of the hospital's construction and it remains “largely unaltered” to this day, said SGH.

The tunnel - which is open 24 hours a day - links the entire hospital campus together, including Outram Community Hospital, the National Heart Centre and the former National Cancer Centre.

The tunnel is also home to several departments which the media got to see in action, including the sterile supplies unit, where approximately 1,300 sets of surgical instruments are processed on a daily basis.

Surgical instruments used at operating theatres are brought to the unit for washing, sorting and inspection for quality check, said Ms Goh Meh Meh, deputy director of nursing.


Trays of surgical instruments being loaded into a washer at SGH's underground sterile supplies unit. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Once they are washed with detergent and antiseptic disinfectant and rendered safe for use, the team will run the instruments under a high-heat steam steriliser before they are used again.

In addition, the carts that are used to hold instruments are also cleaned and loaded into washers with the help of a robotic arm.


A blue robotic arm is used to help load carts that need to be cleaned into a washer. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)


Over at the kitchen, staff members were busy with cooking and preparing meals when the media visited close to noon.

An average of 5,400 meals are prepared in the kitchen daily, with operations beginning as early as 5am.

There are a total of 87 employees working there, including 43 cooks, 22 dietary attendants as well as 21 supervisory and administrative staff.


An employee at the underground kitchen whipping up a dish. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Employees at the underground kitchen preparing meals. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)


SGH’s underground tunnel network also houses a linen supplies unit, which handles around 18,000 to 20,000 pieces of linen a day.

The unit works with 63 different types of linen from patient gowns and medical scrubs to bedding. Besides making sure the linen is clean, the unit also manages the packing as well as timely distribution of these linens across the entire hospital.

Those working in the unit make use of an electronic system that indicates the quantity and type of linen that needs to be packed in each trolley, said Ms Samantha Lai, assistant manager of SGH’s environmental services who oversees the unit.

She added that the linens that come into the unit are also checked daily and that those with any defects such as missing buttons will be handed over to the seamstresses for fixing.


An electronic system that indicates the number of linen such as bath towels and flannel blanket that need to be packed and distributed at the linen supplies unit. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Two staff members at the linen supplies unit checking the clothing items for any defects. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Seamstresses at the linen supplies unit help to fix any defects such as missing buttons on the clothing. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Medical supplies such as gloves and surgical masks are distributed to various wards in the SGH campus from the material management department.

Logistic staff members at SGH wards will send in an online order for the supplies they require. Employees at the warehouse are able to pick up three orders of the same item at the same time, noted Mr Rosli Boedjang, assistant director of supply chain for ALPS, which provides supply chain solutions.

At the warehouse, some of the stations are used to pack supplies for wards while others are for replenishing stocks. However, when things get busy, all stations may be used for packing.


Employees at the hospital's underground materials management department which dispatches medical supplies to wards. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

Hospital supplies such as meals, medicine and linen are transported from the basement of the Outram Community Hospital to different areas on the SGH campus using automated guided vehicles or AGV.

When in a lift, a sensor will "communicate" with the vehicle and bring it up to the different hospital floors automatically.

There are also several charging stations located throughout the tunnel for these vehicles, which take eight hours to be fully charged.


An automated guided vehicle, which transport hospital supplies, at a charging station. (Photo: CNA/Natasha Ganesan)

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