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Does the Health Ministry truly care for the poor?

ismailmerican (10K)
Ismail Merican's plan is disturbing

Aliran is concerned about Director-General of Health Dr Ismail Merican’s recent announcement that specialists at the Putrajaya and Selayang hospitals would provide “private” treatment after working hours. This is part of a disturbing trend in the pipeline that is going to affect poorer patients seeking specialist treatment in government hospitals.

We are told that when this policy is put in place in March, it will act as a forerunner for a general policy to be implemented six months later requiring all specialists throughout the country to “provide” this specialist treatment after working hours.

This proposed scheme is being held out as a carrot to arrest the exodus of our doctors and specialists to the private sector. We are told that some 30 specialists and 300 doctors have been leaving the public sector annually for greener pastures in the private sector. Though it is revealed that this number has dropped slightly last year, it is of no comfort. The situation is really serious.

Aliran is not convinced at all that the proposed new scheme will stop these medical personnel from quitting the public hospitals. Extending the working hours of these specialists for their monetary gains is definitely not the solution. As it is, these specialists are already overworked and overburdened under less than satisfactory working conditions. The proposed new scheme would require them to put in extra hours of work. This is bound to drain away their energy and enthusiasm for the next day's full workload, which involves treating poorer patients who cannot afford to pay much for their treatment.

Exhausted specialists cannot be expected to be efficient and remain true to their calling. We are not told how many hours per day and how many days per week these specialists would be permitted to work outside their working hours to earn extra money. Wouldn't this arrangement require these specialists to work well beyond the already very long working hours? And if so, would it be healthy for them or beneficial to the profession?

In the end, the people who would suffer from this arrangement are the poor. It is the poor who would be sacrificed and marginalised; health care would be out of reach for this majority of Malaysians. This is not the solution or remedy for the legitimate grievances of the specialists.

The solution lies elsewhere. The Health Ministry must seriously and sincerely look at the working conditions and terms of salary and the salary structure of these specialists. Their services are vital and are of great importance to the health delivery system. Let us not deny them their just dues – but not at the expense of the poor.

Executive Committee
11 January 2006

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