KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 – The Ministry of Health (MOH) has announced a review of the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill, after doctors’ groups slammed proposed incarceration for rejecting patients’ prescription requests.
“MOH also noted several objections to the type of penalties imposed if this provision is not complied with,” said Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad in a statement yesterday, referring to the provision on mandatory prescriptions upon patients’ request in the Bill.
“After this was discussed with MOH’s top management, the Health Advisory Council (HAC) and Attorney General’s Chambers, MOH has agreed to review this matter and will present suggestions for improvement in the near future.”
According to Parliament’s order paper, however, the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill is scheduled for second reading today.
Two government MPs — Bagan Serai MP Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali and Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii — have said that they won’t support the Bill, expressing concern with the criminalisation of physicians, dentists, and vets for not issuing prescriptions upon patients’ request, who will face a maximum five-years’ imprisonment, a fine not exceeding RM50,000, or both.
Dzulkefly, however, rubbished claims that medical practitioners will be sentenced to imprisonment if they do not issue a prescription at the request of the patient.
“Before a prescription is issued, patients must first undergo a consultation session with a registered medical practitioner. Consultation is the basis for prescriptions issued to the patient. This means that the patient cannot just arbitrarily meet with a registered medical practitioner and ask for any prescription.
“MOH would like to emphasise that the proposed new provision does not restrict registered medical practitioners from supplying medicines to their patients if patients choose to take medicines at their medical facilities in accordance with current practice,” he clarified.
The Health Ministry tabled an amendment to the Poisons Act 1952 in Parliament last week to make it mandatory for physicians to provide prescriptions upon request from patients, though the Bill did not go as far as separating the prescribing and dispensing of medicines to doctors and pharmacists respectively.
General practitioner (GP) clinics typically do not issue prescriptions unless asked for because patients tend to purchase medicines from the same clinic that prescribes the treatments, rather than visit a pharmacy separately.
Physicians have protested against the Poisons Act amendment Bill, saying that it is unfair to the doctors’ community.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) criticised the government for not consulting stakeholders before pushing legal amendments to criminalise doctors for rejecting patients’ prescription requests.
The country’s largest association of doctors reminded the Health Ministry of a 2015 circular by the Chief Secretary to the Government that requires prior regulatory impact analysis and stakeholders’ engagement for any amendments to Acts and regulations.
The Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Association Malaysia (FPMPAM) also voiced concern, saying that the “supply” of medicines as regulated by the Poisons Act excluded doctors’ administration of treatments, questioning how “decline to issue a prescription upon request” was defined in the Bill.
“If a request is unreasonable and illegal, doctors have every right to decline the request,” FPMPAM president Dr Steven Chow said.
Correction note: The Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill enhanced the punishment for offences against the Poisons Act from maximum one-year’s jail, a fine not exceeding RM3,000, or both to maximum five-years’ jail, a fine not exceeding RM50,000, or both. Under the Bill, declining to issue prescriptions upon patients’ request is defined as an offence against the Act. The article has since been corrected to reflect the new proposed punishments.