Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Fed-up contract doctors to look beyond Malaysia for work?

Many are said to be unhappy with the lack of a long-term solution to their problems.

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Malaysia may witness an exodus of contract doctors from the country as their request to be absorbed into permanent positions remained unaddressed in the 2022 budget tabled in the Dewan Rakyat last week.

A group representing contract doctors in Malaysia said Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, when presenting the budget, only said that the government had agreed to extend appointments on a contract basis to 10,000 medical officers.

The Hartal Doktor Kontrak (HDK) group said this would not provide any long-term solution to their problem.

A former contract doctor who identified himself as MJ spoke of concerns that the situation would discourage contract doctors from continuing to serve in the country.

“All the time I hear them say ‘I want to quit’, ‘I want to go somewhere else’. The only thing holding them back is financial commitment,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“If things get better in terms of their finances, they will leave.”

MJ, who plans to migrate to Australia himself, resigned as a contract doctor last month after his application for a change in departments was ignored by the hospital director.

According to him, nearly every day there are contract medical officers who resign.

“If things get better in terms of their finances, they will leave.”

A similar situation occurred in neighbouring Singapore, where health workers under severe pressure due to a spike in Covid-19 infections likewise tendered their resignation.

Some 1,500 had thrown in the towel as of the middle of the year compared to 2,000 annually before the Covid-19 pandemic hit.

Most resignations involved foreign doctors and health workers.

MJ said countries such as Singapore, Australia and the UK are now facilitating the migration of doctors who are willing to relocate there to work.

HDK spokesman Dr Mustapha Kamal meanwhile agreed that Malaysia could see a migration of contract doctors if the issues they face are not resolved.

“I don’t know if any of them have already received offers from other countries,” he told MalaysiaNow.

“What I do know is that many are disappointed with the 2022 budget.”

Any migration of the sort would likely complicate matters for the government in finding suitable replacements for specialist doctors.

But Mustapha said this was not their concern.

“The policymakers should have made projections for the next 10 to 20 years,” he said.

It is understood that HDK will go on strike for the second time next month. The first strike took place nationwide on July 26.

“Many are disappointed with the 2022 budget.”

MJ, who had worked as a contract doctor at a hospital in Johor, warned that it would be difficult for the government to revive the healthcare system if the situation continues to deteriorate.

“Healthcare is a basic necessity required all the time,” he said. “Those who are more affordable might be able to pay for health insurance, but for the B40 in the lower-income bracket, their only choice is the government healthcare system.”

MJ also said many appointments for patients with diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure are being postponed.

“This is because there are not enough doctors in the clinics,” he said. “So imagine if more doctors decide to quit. The health levels of the B40 are going to decrease.”

Dr Koh Kar Chai, president of the Malaysian Medical Association, said doctors whose contracts have ended might leave for other countries such as Singapore.

However, he said not many would want to work there unless the terms of service are lucrative enough.

“Job offers there are mostly time-based contracts with marginally better pay, if we take into account the high cost of living in Singapore,” he added.

“What will attract them to Singapore are permanent positions with the prospect of specialising.”

On the resignation of contract doctors, Koh said this was the norm every year, adding that many others graduate and are ready to be absorbed into government service.

He said contract doctors would likely turn to the private sector before looking to other countries.

But even there, he said, it is difficult to take in all of them.

“It will be hard to absorb such large numbers in the already crowded private sector,” he said, adding that there had been a mushrooming of general practitioners and a migration of doctors into healthcare-related industries.

“The lure of foreign countries will always be there, but it is competitive and restrictive there as well.”

For MJ, though, who is now putting together the documents needed for his application to Australia, the issue at hand is not money.

For him, it is the government’s failure to respect its contract doctors.

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