I recently wrote a series of news reports about a Slim River Hospital ambulance that crashed last August 4, which police said was caused by a burst tyre, killing a patient and the driver.
I reported allegations from the Ministry of Health (MOH) hospital staff who claimed that the facility’s ambulances previously suffered tyre blowouts multiple times over a year or so before the fatal accident. The health care workers, fearful for their safety, also complained to me about allegedly shoddy ambulance maintenance by a government-linked company (GLC) that has a 10-year concession with MOH ending 2025.
Before the dust even settled on the crash, another Slim River Hospital ambulance suffered a tyre explosion last August 28. Luckily, no one died.
Initially, I felt reassured by Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad’s promise to improve ambulance safety based on any recommendations by the ministry’s internal inquiry into the road traffic accident, which he said was close to completion.
Then, my sources told me that Slim River Hospital’s top management is meeting on September 19 to find out how information was leaked to CodeBlue.
When will MOH ever finish its inquiry into the fatal crash and openly publish the results, if it’s busy looking for the whistleblowers instead?
As editor-in-chief of CodeBlue, a media startup that reports on important issues and policies related to health care in Malaysia and around the world, I had hoped to shed some light on issues which most Malaysians consider mundane – a deadly road traffic accident and possibly faulty vehicle maintenance – but which have significant impact on frontline health care workers.
Mainstream media didn’t pick up my stories about the Slim River Hospital ambulance crash, and the general public didn’t seem to care. But that was fine. At least the issue was out in the open, allowing those in power to take measures to protect patients and health workers.
The onus is really on UEM Edgenta, the concessionaire in charge of maintaining ambulances in Slim River Hospital and in 31 other MOH hospitals in the north, and on MOH to come forward and acknowledge any problems.
Targeting whistleblowers only makes it look as if the government is more interested in hiding the truth, instead of uncovering inconvenient facts.
To make it worse, the government’s targets are ordinary MOH workers from a small town in Perak, who risk their lives every day to care for Malaysians in vehicles whose safety is in doubt.
Pakatan Harapan (PH) came into power by campaigning against corruption, mismanagement, and government secrecy. They promised to uphold press freedom and applauded civil servants who dared to expose abuse of power in the 1MDB scandal.
Now, this coalition is going after civil servants who went to the press out of fear, desperation, and a sense of injustice.
Worse, this is happening in the area of medicine, where health care professionals pledge to “first, do no harm”.
Health policies in Malaysia have been implemented without scrutiny for far too long as our health outcomes stagnated under decades of Barisan Nasional (BN) rule, with Malaysians dying of diseases like cancer that could be survived by people in other countries.
BN was only lucky that many Malaysians had (and still have) a somewhat fatalistic attitude towards illness, and rarely hold the government accountable for bad policies that result in death.
Now, with a new government, the Auditor-General should take the opportunity to investigate previously unexamined public procurement practices in MOH, which is among the biggest ministries in terms of government spending, and review those that do not benefit taxpayers.
PH has the chance to turn things around and get Malaysia to developed nation status when it comes to health care and our health indicators.
Unfortunately, the New Malaysia that PH promised is sometimes hobbled by bureaucrats from BN’s time who attack whistleblowers, abhor transparency, and sacrifice public accountability for self-interest.
Boo Su-Lyn is CodeBlue editor-in-chief. She is a libertarian, or classical liberal, who believes in minimal state intervention in the economy and socio-political issues.