Old Changi Hospital

Singapore Infopedia


There appears to have been a military medical presence at Changi ever since construction of the base began with the first medical officer arriving in 1928 to assist with anti-malarial drainage work.1 The hospital for the base was moved from Barracks Hill to Roberts Barracks in 1942 when Changi became the internment camp for POWs.2 After World War II, the Royal Air Force (RAF) took over the Japanese airfield and established the RAF Hospital in 1946.3 Handed over to Singapore, it became the civilian Changi Hospital in 1976.4 In 1997, Changi Hospital was moved with Toa Payoh Hospital to Simei to merge into a new institution, Changi General Hospital.5 The premises of the old Changi Hospital at Halton Road were thus vacated.

Early military medical presence
From the early stages of the construction of the artillery base, a medical officer was stationed at Changi.6 The officer, a Major Champney, arrived in 1928 and worked with the engineers on the site's drainage to prevent mosquito-borne malaria.A Royal Army Medical Corps centre for the base was referred to as a hospital both on the map and is referred to during the inquest into a sapper's death in 1930.8 From the 1930 and 1937 maps in the 1965 edition of Probert’s The History of Changi, the hospital was located at what is today Halton Road.9 However, these maps might only have been plans as work on the base was halted between 1929 and 1933, and accounts of Changi in the 1937 and 1938 The Royal Engineers Journal do not mention the construction of specific hospital facilities.10

After Singapore fell to the Japanese, the captured Allied troops were detained in Changi at the Changi military base. This caused a great strain on medical facilities in the small existing hospital on top of Barracks Hill, particularly with widespread dysentery occurring among prisoners. The hospital quickly moved to the nearby Roberts Barracks and remained there till 1944 when the last of the POWs were moved to Changi Prison to make way for a Japanese airfield.11

Post-war period
Because the Japanese had constructed an airfield in 1943 during the Occupation, the Royal Air Force took over Changi after the end of the war in 1946.12 The RAF Hospital Changi was functioning as early as October 1947, with a baby born there that month.13

After Singapore attained independence in 1965, the British Far East Command gradually began their withdrawal from the island, but their military presence in Singapore still continued14 with the formation of ANZUK – a tripartite coalition comprising the Commonwealth Forces of servicemen from Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. The hospital came under ANZUK’s control in 1971, and was consequently renamed, ANZUK Hospital. In 1975, when ANZUK was disbanded, the hospital became known as the United Kingdom (UK) Military Hospital.15

As the last of the Commonwealth troops withdrew from Singapore in December 1975, the hospital was handed over to the Singapore government and came under the auspices of the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). It was renamed Singapore Armed Forces Hospital, and provided free medical care for SAF personnel and their immediate family members. The hospital gradually extended medical services to the public at the same rates as government hospitals. Services offered at the hospital included general medicine, general surgery and dental surgery.16

At the same time, a former British officer’s club on Halton Road was converted to Changi Chalet Hospital, and started accepting admissions in January 1975. It provided emergency services to holiday-makers or people with minor ailments as well as x-ray and laboratory services for inmates from Changi Prison, and the armed forces based in Pulau Tekong and Pulau Ubin.17

In 1976, the SAF Hospital was handed over to the Ministry of Health, which combined it with Changi Chalet Hospital. The former was known as the upper block and the latter, the lower block.18 Together, the two facilities made up the 180-bed Changi Hospital, under the governance of the Ministry of Health. However, the 100-metre distance between the two blocks – upper block at Halton Road and lower block at Turnhouse Road – posed some challenges in the administration of the hospital.19 It took hospital staff 10 minutes to walk from one block to another, including having to traverse a flight of steep steps up a hill slope. This led to the duplication of some important services in each block, which made it hard to run the hospital.20

In 1997, Changi Hospital was merged with Toa Payoh Hospital to form a new institution in Simei – Changi General Hospital.21 At the time of its closure, Changi Hospital had more than 150 staff members.22 Some continued their tenure at the new hospital, but primary administration was undertaken by Toa Payoh Hospital.23

Hospital closure
The vacated buildings at the site of the old Changi Hospital became sought-after set locations for filming local films and television dramas once they became available for short-term rental from the Singapore Land Authority (SLA).24 Growing Up, Incredible Tales and Crime Hunters are some of the local dramas that were filmed against its backdrop.25

It appears that the closed Changi Hospital building quickly became a site for thrill seekers, as suggested in a story about spook-hunting which appeared in The Straits Times in 2000. A decade later in 2010, a horror movie titled Haunted Changi was made there. 26

After nine years of renting it out, the government decided that the site needed to be put to more concrete use that complemented the rustic charm of the neighbourhood.27 In 2006, SLA put up the site for commercial lease as the first of four properties in the Changi precinct identified for development.28 Among the ideas mooted for the former hospital were to convert it into a school, hostel, chalet or arts venue.29 The tender was awarded to Premium Pacific, a subsidiary of Bestway Properties, which proposed to build a luxurious spa-resort by the first half of 2008. However, the project fell through, and the site was returned to the state in January 2010 after the three-year lease expired.30 The building remains vacant to this day.31

Faizah bte Zakaria

1. Henry Probert, The History of Changi (Singapore: Prison Industries in Changi Prison, 1965), 15 (Call no. RSING 959.51 PRO); W. J. F. Craig, “Anti-Malaria Drainage Work in the New Changi Cantonment,” Journal of the Royal Army Medical Corps, 69, no. 1 (January 1937): 15–26.
2. Probert, History of Changi, 41.
3. Probert, History of Changi, 52–66.
4. “Ex-RAF Hospital Will Be Open to Public Soon,” Straits Times, 25 November 1975, 25; “Changi Hospital Reopens Tomorrow,” Straits Times, 30 June 1976, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Allison Lim, “Staff Want to Keep Hospital's Soul in Move to New Home,” Straits Times, 22 February 1997, 3; “Use Your Regional Hospital,” Straits Times, 29 March 1998, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
6. Probert, History of Changi, 15.
7. Craig, “Anti-Malaria Drainage Work,” 15–26.
8. Probert, History of Changi, 25; “Tragic End to Sappers' Night Out,” Singapore Free Press, 25 June 1930, 405; “Social and Personal,” Straits Times, 17 April 1929, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
9. Probert, History of Changi, 25, 33.
10. J. F. F., “Changi Cantonment 1933–1937,” Royal Engineers Journal (September 1937): 355–62; L. N. Malan, “Singapore: The Founding of the New Defences,” Royal Engineers Journal (June 1938): 213–35.
11. Probert, History of Changi, 37, 41, 52.
12. “British PoWs Have Built Biggest S.E.A.C. Airbase: Changi Will Be ACSEA HQ,” Straits Times, 17 March 1946, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
13. “Page 6 Advertisements Column 1,” Straits Times, 30 October 1947, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
14. William Campbell, “Pull-Out,” Straits Times, 30 October 1971, 14. (From NewspaperSG)
15. “Name Change,” New Nation, 10 September 1971, 1; “From ANZUK, UK Military to Plain Old Changi,” Straits Times, 29 January 1997, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Plain Old Changi”; Liza Lin, “From Healing Space to Filming Place,” Straits Times, 1 January 2005, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Plain Old Changi”; “Our Heritage,” Changi General Hospital, accessed 22 September 2016.
18. Plain Old Changi.”
19. Changi General Hospital, “Our Heritage”; “Farewell Bird Songs and Barbeque Smells,” Straits Times, 29 January 1997, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
20. “Farewell Bird Songs.”
21. Lin, “Healing Space to Filming Place.” 
22. A. Chia, “Old Changi Hospital: Singapore’s First Haunted Hospital?” accessed 22 September 2016.
23. “Changi Patients Move to New Hospital in Simei,” Straits Times, 19 February 1997, 24; “New Changi Hospital Trains Staff to Delight Its Customers,” Straits Times, 11 December 1997, 49. (From NewspaperSG)
24. Lin, “Healing Space to Filming Place.” 
25. “A New Life for Former Changi Hospital Site,” Straits Times, 31 July 2006, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
26. Arti Mulchand, “Hantu, Hantu,” Straits Times, 26 October 2000, 6; Genevieve Loh, “Filming With Ghosts,” Today, 3 September 2010, 88 (From NewspaperSG); Chia, “Old Changi Hospital.”
27. “New Life for Former Changi Hospital Site.”
28. T. Rajan, “Bid to Jazz Up Sleepy Changi: Four Pre-War Sites Up for Lease,” Straits Times, 23 October 2006, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “New Life for Former Changi Hospital Site.”
30. “Project to Develop Former Changi Hospital into Spa Resort Shelved,” Channel NewsAsia, 31 January 2010 (From Factiva via NLB’s eResources website); Rajan, “Bid to Jazz Up Sleepy Changi.” 
31. Street Directory, 24 Halton Road – Changi Hospital (Former), map, accessed 22 September 2016.

The information in this article is valid as at November 2019 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.  

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