As Junior Doctors Battle Covid-19, Some 1,500 Don’t Get Permanent Posts

About roughly 3,500 young doctors from two cohorts may not get permanent positions in the government.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 18 — Nearly 1,500 contract housemen were only offered a two-year contract as medical officers on the UD41 grade to complete their compulsory service, without any extension.

These contract trainee doctors from the third cohort — with their two-year housemanship beginning on May 15, 2017 — received letters from the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Human Resources Division last Monday about their renewed contract as medical officers from May 15, 2020 to May 14, 2022 on the UD41 civil service grade, instead of the higher UD43 grade enjoyed by their permanent counterparts. (Although housemanship is two years’ long, doctors can complete their training in three years).

UD41 medical officers lose the RM600 flexi monthly allowance given to house officers — the annual salary differential between UD41 and UD43/44 officers is RM8,000. Contract medical officers also can’t join local universities’ Masters’ programmes to specialise because they’re not given full-pay study leave. Neither can they join parallel pathway specialisation because this requires four years’ training after housemanship.

“This contract reappointment will begin after the end of the first contract on May 14, 2020 and constitutes the final contract,” said MOH’s letter to a junior doctor dated March 16, as sighted by CodeBlue.

MOH also said on its housemen website that UD41 contract doctors appointed on May 15, 2017, have been reappointed on contract for compulsory service for two years from May 15, 2020 to May 14, 2022.

CodeBlue understands that not a single doctor from the 1,500-strong third cohort received a permanent post. The fourth cohort — with their housemanship beginning on July 17, 2017 — comprises nearly 2,000 doctors, all of whom will also not likely get a permanent position in the government due to the lack of vacancies.

Only a mere 13 per cent of some 4,500 doctors from all four cohorts — starting with housemanships beginning on December 5, 2016, since the contract system was introduced — received permanent positions as medical officers, or nearly 600 doctors.

A doctor working in a Johor government hospital, one of those who received the recent letter from MOH about his two-year contract from May 2020 to May 2022, expressed frustration about the situation.

“Information was scarce from the beginning. We all knew the contracts would be on a 3 + 2 basis, but the government did not let us know what happens after that,” he told CodeBlue on condition of anonymity, due to a government ruling that prohibits civil servants from speaking to the press.

“Initially, there were people who were absorbed as permanent staff. So we questioned how these people were selected and pleaded with the government to make the selection process transparent. But again, we were met with silence.

“When the email came at this critical juncture when many of us on Covid duty are contract MOs, we are enraged by ‘kontrak ini merupakan kontrak yang terakhir’ message, and also by the timing of it,” he added.

He said he has been working on the SWAT team screening Covid-19 patients, working in shifts either from 8am to 5pm, or 5pm to 8am.

The young doctor added that a significant proportion of doctors on the frontlines fighting the novel coronavirus outbreak in Malaysia — which is now nearing 700 cases — are contract medical officers.

“As the nation (and the world) faces one of the worst health care emergencies in history, these medical officers did not shirk from their duty but stepped up to take on the responsibilities they signed up for — to contribute to the health care services of Malaysia.

“And yet they face near certain unemployment two years down the road.”

Dr Kevin Ng, chairman of the Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) SCHOMOS (a section supporting housemen and medical officers), pointed out that the new Perikatan Nasional government seems to have overlooked the previous Pakatan Harapan administration’s pledge to promote contract medical officers to UD43.

Dr Ng, who met Health Minister Dr Adham Baba and Deputy Health Minister I Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali yesterday to talk about contract medical officer issues, called for UD43 contracts for all contract medical officers with immediate effect.

He also urged the government to either extend medical officers’ contract from two to 10 years, allowing full-pay study leave for specialisation, or for permanent positions only with the Employees’ Provident Fund (EPF). Permanent positions should be tied with a five-year bond for the first option, or specialist training tied with a five-year bond for the second option.

“An entire cohort, possibly two cohorts of 3,500 doctors, will be lost and many of us senior doctors will tell you that there are many stars amongst them,” Dr Ng said.

Dr Ng told CodeBlue that the health minister told him he would look into it and that Covid-19 is priority now.

“With ZERO job security, ZERO opportunity to progress in their careers and ZERO fulfilling their dreams, isn’t it fair to say that the junior doctors are right to feel unappreciated and let down? Isn’t it fair for them to feel aggrieved and isolated?” Dr Ng said.

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