Friday, August 21, 2009

MySinChew opinion: Part-time jobs for doctors?

Part-time jobs for doctors?

Health minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai declared that the flu situation in the country had gone into an emergency level. He also said medical personnel in government hospitals, be they doctors, dentists, pharmacists or nurses, were in short supply.

These two are bad things to the country!

More than 60 lives have so far been claimed by the deadly Influenza A(H1N1) in recent weeks, and to add to the misery, when these healthcare personnel are most needed in checking the advances of the flu, we are told that government hospitals are severely understaffed.

People always say bad things don't happen alone. What we are facing right now is a classical instance of this dire situation!

If the roof is leaking, unless we tear it down completely and rebuild, there is no way we can keep out the rain.

The current doctor to patient ratio in the country stands at 1:1145, highlighting the fact that being government hospital doctors is not something glamorous, and the patients are equally miserable having to wait for hours to get attended.

It is not uncommon to see our hospitals packed to the seams. This is not because the services offered at public hospitals are exceptionally good, but rather because private hospitals and clinics charge exorbitant fees way beyond the affordability of ordinary people. Low-income patients may be left with no choices but to visit government hospitals which charge significantly lower fees.

"The management of government hospitals must be completely overhauled."

With A(H1N1) fast sweeping across the nation, the crowded government hospitals could only get more crowded, making it very hard for doctors to cope with the influx of visitors.

Doctor shortage is not a new problem. Local universities train only 2,000 to 2,500 medical students a year, and even if all these eventually end up in government hospitals, they may not be sufficient to plug the shortfall. Moreover, some of them will opt to set up their own clinics, while a sizeable portion get "sucked" by hospitals across the Causeway.

Singapore hospitals offer yet another avenue of prospect for young promising Malaysian doctors. In an era that emphasises competitiveness, sound working environment and thick remunerations, places which offer excellent deals will be the ones most successful in bagging the top brains.

Our government doctors have to work very long hours and take home not-that-handsome pays. As if that is not enough, they still have to come under the harsh words of health ministry director-general Tan Sri Dr Ismail Merican: "If healthcare personnel are unable to work long hours, they'd better leave."

As a result, locally graduated medical professionals end up serving foreign hospitals, while those trained overseas prefer to stay in their host countries.

And the government can only try to recruit doctors from India, Bangladesh and Pakistan. While these foreign doctors may not communicate well with local patients, they can take the heavy workload without much problem.

The advent of A(H1N1) makes the shortage of doctors at government hospitals a whole lot more acute. Even Dr Ismail Merican has to woo private doctors with the hope that some 25,000 doctors will be willing to take up part-time jobs at government hospitals!

I'm not sure whether to get the doctors to work part-time is just an expedient plan or a long-term program. All I know is that the management of government hospitals must be completely overhauled.

To allow severe doctor shortage to persist is to put helpless patients on a tightrope. (By TAN POH KHENG/Translated by DOMINIC LOH/Sin Chew Daily)

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