KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 — Two backbencher MPs have urged the government to withdraw a Bill that proposed incarceration or fines for doctors who refuse patients’ requests for drug prescriptions.
Bagan Serai MP Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali (Bersatu) said although he agreed with the provisions in the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill — which regulates medicines — on increased punishments related to psychoactive plants, he opposed provisions that mooted maximum five year’s imprisonment, a fine not exceeding RM50,000, or both against doctors, dentists, and vets for rejecting their patients’ prescription requests.
“This draconian rule looks like it’s purposely increasing the burden to GPs (general practitioners), who were not allowed to increase their consultation fee since the last 27 years.
“The GPs, who were once called the gatekeepers of health, now will be put in jail mixing with the other criminals, for just not giving a prescription. This is wrong,” Dr Noor Azmi said in a statement to CodeBlue.
The government MP called for a parliamentary select committee to discuss the Bill further with stakeholders, even as it’s scheduled to be tabled for second reading in Parliament today, during the final week of the current parliamentary meeting, according to the Parliament order paper.
“Is there any hidden agenda by anyone, any group as far as GPs should only give prescriptions? GPs have been at the forefront in taking care of the nation’s health, especially in the rural areas,” Dr Noor Azmi said, adding that the Bill should be withdrawn and retabled next year after discussions with stakeholders.
“GPs are guided by the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act. How on earth did this section emerge and govern the GPs here?” the Pakatan Harapan lawmaker questioned. “Who advised the minister? What’s the comment from the Director-General of Health?”
Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii (DAP) similarly proposed that the second reading of the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill be pushed to the next parliamentary meeting scheduled for March 2020, pending review and further engagement with stakeholders.
“As I myself will not support the Bill in its current form,” Dr Yii said in a statement, expressing concern with the criminalisation of doctors, dentists, and vets who do not comply with patients’ prescription requests.
“While to a certain extent I understand the rationale of the Bill, including intending to be more patient-centric and promoting patients’ choice and options, but adding criminal elements to such provisions within the Bill that criminalise doctors for rejecting to what can be perceived as questionable prescription requests is unreasonable and can be perceived as ‘draconian’,” he added.
Dr Yii said although there are safeguards in place that do not remove the need for a proper doctor’s diagnosis of a condition for which a prescription of treatment is issued, he highlighted concerns about how mandatory prescriptions upon request could “open unwanted floodgates and confusion”.
“In my view, the adding of criminal elements to such cases is unreasonable and such cases of refusal of prescription should be continued to be dealt with by MMC (Malaysian Medical Council), although mechanisms has to be in place for those who refuse sanctions,” he said.
CodeBlue broke the news about Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad tabling the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill for first reading in Parliament last Monday that sought to criminalise physicians’ rejection of their patients’ prescription requests.
The Bill also expanded the powers of Health Ministry enforcement officials, allowing them to search private clinics, hospitals or other premises if an offence was suspected, protecting them from lawsuits, and allowing evidence by agent provocateurs.
Doctors’ groups have opposed the Bill, saying that physicians have the right to reject patients’ prescription requests that they consider unreasonable or illegal. The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) also questioned if pharmacists would face jail time for dispensing medicines without a doctor’s prescription, as it stressed opposition against the criminalisation of any professional group.
Dzulkefly said in a statement yesterday that the Health Ministry has taken into account objections against the penalties on mandatory prescriptions upon request, and promised to review the Bill and suggest improvements as soon as possible.
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.