It’s very disheartening to read the media report regarding the National Cost of Living Action Council’s (NACCOL) meeting — chaired by Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Minister Saifuddin Nasution Ismail — decision to consider other alternatives to deal with the stagnating general practitioners’ (GP) fees instead of harmonising it with their GP counterparts in hospitals.
This issue had gone through endless stakeholders, town hall, regulatory and impact analysis meetings, and public consultations and what is needed to sustain GP practice and its viability is very clear.
It’s also been explained many times in the past that the harmonisation of GP fees will not affect the total bill consumers pay due to the existence of free market forces, as well as the patients’ ability to exercise their choice of having their prescriptions filled up at local pharmacies.
Every other alternative solutions had already been implemented by the GPs for the last 27 years as they continually faced the onslaught of rising costs and truth be told, if the harmonisation does not take place, many GPs will face extinction as had been forewarned many times in the past.
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
NACCOL and, for that matter everyone, have to realise that it’s not merely the availability of GP healthcare that matters but the priority is delivery of quality health care by GPs that can enable many to achieve optimal health.
The health care equation comprises of availability, quality and costs. If we compromise on costs, either quality or availability must decrease as there are no other possible outcomes. Thus if GP fees are stagnating for the last 27 years with no increase, either you have to decrease GP clinics or decrease quality.
From data that we know, every year there are more than 5,000 doctors being produced, but yet the number of GP clinics nationwide had been stagnating at about 7000+ for five years or more.
Indeed, quality of GP healthcare is being increasingly compromised that we are in danger of seeing 7-11 GP clinics sprouting everywhere manned by the “RM2 Doctor” making primary health care not dissimilar to fast food outlets.
This will also mean patients may need to see three specialists to sort out their abdominal pain as there are no GPs to properly assess and screen them. Indeed health care costs will inevitably rise even further.
There is also no use being paralysed by debilitating diabetes or hypertension when health care costs is free, as many others would be more appreciative of reasonable health care costs that are of high quality, enabling many to reap a fruitful and rewarding life.
In short, the government should be more concerned about enabling quality health care to the public, allowing many to have a better life and a reason or cause to live, rather than aiming for low cost of living that may be meaningless to many if they suffer catastrophic health consequences.
Dr John Teo is a obstetrician & gynaecologist based in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.