Public health service ‘terminally ill’

by Letter to the Editor

by Roslan Sharif

It is frustrating and saddening that our public health service is in a dire state in spite of the tremendous sacrifices and protracted long hours that our medical professionals and allied staff have endured since time immemorial.

The perennial problems and issues plaguing the healthcare system need an urgent and immediate diagnosis, prognosis, treatment and attention, failing which we will surely be on the brink of collapse.


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The health ministry needs to make a comprehensive study to get to the root of the problems and institute sustainable solutions.

The public services department (PSD) and the finance ministry must give their full support and assistance to overcome the problems as they affect the rakyat at large.

Day in and day out, over the last two decades, the media has been deluged with news reports and letters from the public highlighting the plight of our medical professionals, dilapidated facilities and equipment, and long and unending queues.

The health director-general (DG) has time and again expressed his frustration over inadequate funding and the obstacles faced.

The DG has expressed countless times that “we are currently understaffed, underpaid, overstretched and with facilities overcrowded with patients”.

Does anyone hear his frustrations and impassioned pleas? Can we give him a break before he goes on mandatory retirement in April?

The problems faced by the ministry range from placement for newly graduated medical professionals and contract of service for those who have completed their internship to a lack of specialists as well as inadequate or poor state of facilities and equipment.

In November 2021, then health minister Khairy Jamaluddin told the Dewan Negara, Malaysia needs 28,000 specialists in various medical disciplines to address the shortage, which is the reason behind the waiting time to see specialists.

Currently, graduates of our local Master’s programme undergo a six-month gazettement period.

Those who obtain their specialist qualifications from the UK undergo an 18-month gazettement period under consultants of their speciality before they are regarded as full-fledged specialists.

Is it not possible to shorten this gazettement period for those who have obtained their specialist qualifications from abroad?

After all, they would have served more than five years in their speciality as a senior medical officer and they would have had adequate experience, training and exposure.

The other problem is that some heads of departments and service heads take ages to sign off their log books, which is a prerequisite to apply for gazettement, thus further delaying and frustrating these graduate specialists.

This is definitely not in line with the Hippocratic Oath that mandates the supervisors to treat their juniors as their “offspring” and to accord them due respect, dignity and fairness.

To quote a part of the oath, “to reckon him who taught me this Art equally dear to me as my parents, to share my substance with him, and relieve his necessities if required; to look upon his offspring in the same footing as my own brothers, and to teach them this Art, if they shall wish to learn it, without fee or stipulation; and that by precept, lecture, and every other mode of instruction, I will impart knowledge of the Art to my own sons, and those of my teachers, and to disciples bound by a stipulation and oath according to the law of medicine, but to none others”.

This attitude or behaviour of these departments and service heads is also not in sync with the fundamental and basic tenets of Malaysia Madani, which calls upon us to be mindful, empathic, fair, just, kind, considerate and human.

As a human resources specialist, it is my professional view that the health ministry’s human resources division has failed miserably in carrying out the function of manpower planning.

Manpower planning must take into account projections on manpower requirements for new and future facilities, and attrition statistics, which include deaths, retirement, resignations, transfers and promotions, based on historical data and trends.

The reason for this failure, in my mind, can be attributed to the fact that those who are heading the HR function at ministries, departments and even the PSD are rarely those who have any HR credentials or competency.

The vast majority, if not all of them, are administrative and diplomatic (PTD) officers with diverse qualifications.

I sincerely hope and pray that the new health DG and the secretary-general will give serious and immediate attention to the matters raised here.

I hope they will institute immediate, proactive and corrective action as well as put in place preventive measures to stop the rot and further deterioration of our public health service, which is currently terminally ill.

Let us not rest on our laurels or the rakyat will continue to be the victims and endure continued suffering.

Source: Public health service ‘terminally ill’-FMT

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