Lately, there has been a lot of discussions on the number of doctors graduating from local and foreign universities. Annually about 6,000 junior doctors join the government service. The government realized that simply too many doctors were being trained and could not cope with the increase. There were not enough jobs for them. Thus, the government had to introduce a new service for junior doctors as a stop-gap measure. Some doctors were made permanent while the others acted as floating or contract doctors in the hospital where they did their internship. The Ministry of Health or the MOH, till today, has not solved the problem of posting these junior doctors, prompting some doctors to resign and leave after the compulsory internship. The new service for contract doctors is also discriminatory. The junior doctors do the same job as permanent doctors but they don’t enjoy all the perks of a permanent doctor. This is grossly unfair. The temporary doctors are treated with condescension. The contract doctors are made to feel inferior as compared to those on a permanent posting.
How did this situation happen? The answer lies with the MOH’s failure to plan. At one time, we lacked doctors, so much so, doctors were recruited from neighboring countries. To solve the problem the MOH allowed the opening of many private medical universities. Today, we have 32 medical universities. On a per-capita basis, we have more medical universities than Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States of America. Australia has 19 universities followed by 33 in the UK and 179 in the US. One reason for the increase was to correct the doctor to population ratio per the World Health Organisation. At the same time, Malaysia also recognizes about 350 overseas universities. It is safe to say that we have an estimated 18,700 medical students in all years in Malaysia as well as another 15,000 studying medicine abroad. That means we will have about 30,000 doctors joining hospitals in Malaysia soon.
Many believe that the government is not addressing the problems from the right perspective. The so-called access doctors should be posted to busy hospitals and health clinics. There have been many complaints about the waiting time not only in government hospitals but also in private hospitals. More doctors mean less waiting time. Many patients who are forced to get treatment in the accident and emergency units have to be patient as the waiting period is absurd sometimes and it can be up to about 4 hours during peak time. It is also quite long in other units and healthcare centers. A lot of time is wasted. It’s always a half-day affair for many patients who get treatment for minor ailments like an incessant cough. Even in private clinics, where patients have to pay it is no better. There is always a waiting period which brings about anxiousness.
I believe the Ministry of Health had learned a lot during this ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. There were many complaints of frontliners such as doctors and nurses being overworked. News articles and photos showing doctors and nurses lying on the floor of the hospital due to exhaustion were shown in the mass media. Most Malaysians sympathized and empathized with them. But, how can such a scenario happen? On one hand, MOH says we have too many trained doctors but on the other hand, they say the existing doctors are being overworked. I think MOH must go back to the drawing board and plan well. All the extra doctors who are floating in hospitals should be posted as soon as possible to busy hospitals and those hard-pressed handling Covid-19 cases. I think Covid-19 is here to stay so some extra doctors will be an added advantage. We can also improve our patient-doctor ratio and become better in the World Health Care Rankings. Probably, we can become the best.
I think that the major factor behind the control in posting doctors is the cost. If there are too many doctors, the government has to spend more money paying them. If we want to excel, we are bound to face challenges. So, the government must look at the budgets of other units and reduce where necessary and channel it to the Ministry of Health. Healthcare must be a priority in all countries. In the last budget, a lot of money was allocated to less important departments like the Prime Minister’s department. Many Malaysians questioned the move but fell on dumb ears. At the same time, as compared to other bigger countries like India and China, we have a bloated cabinet of Ministers and Deputy Ministers. During this pandemic, a large number of them had gone into hibernation. They were not seen actively, serving their constituents. They could have gone around to check on people needing help but they chose to sit quietly at home. There was even a picture of a politician swimming in his swimming pool at home belittling the active ones. All the members of the cabinet are also given a fat monthly salary. Apart from politicians and ministers, heads of GLC are also given a fat remuneration. I don’t think they deserve such high salaries. If the government can check and reduce the big salaries of these people, the savings can be channeled to pay the extra junior doctors.
We will never know when another emergency like Covid-19 will happen in Malaysia again. So, it’s no harm in having extra doctors. The only worry is the suitability of some doctors who come from lowly ranked universities. But, the government can have special exams for students who come from lowly ranked universities. They can also be observed during their internship. If they are not up to the mark, their training should be extended. The government should also build additional hospitals in each state to create vacancies. We definitely need more doctors at outpatient clinics. The present doctors see too many patients so they have to rush through to finish their quota of patients. We need more doctors therefore more posts must be created.
Palaniappan Karuppan is a content writer under Headliner by Newswav, a programme where content creators get to tell their unique stories through articles and at the same time monetize their content within the Newswav app.
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