Now’s Not The Time To Axe Contract Health Workers, Putrajaya Told

Dr Lee Boon Chye calls for a dedicated Covid-19 team to do contact tracing, as MOH staff also have to deal with other diseases like TB and dengue.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — Former Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye called for increased public health spending to hire more staff, saying the Covid-19 pandemic may stretch for years.

The PKR lawmaker pointed out that economic activities cannot run if public health is not taken care of.

“Now is not the time for the Ministry of Health (MOH) to let go of contract workers, whether it’s contract doctors, contract nurses, pharmacists, dentists et cetera,” Dr Lee said in a video posted on Facebook last Saturday.

“Now is the best opportunity to absorb them into MOH, whether for public health or other sectors. As we know, throughout the Covid-19 outbreak, while MOH was focusing on treatment for Covid-19, other sectors and diseases were not prioritised.

“Necessary treatment for cancer patients was delayed, needed surgeries were deferred, needed heart disease treatment was postponed. So when we want to play catch-up, we need not just funding allocations, but also human resources.”

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba announced last April a six-month contract extension for government doctors, pharmacists, and dentists, whose service ended late last year or is due for termination this year, in order to help MOH tackle the Covid-19 outbreak.

CodeBlue reported last March that some 1,500 contract housemen from the third cohort — whose training started in May 2017 — were offered two-year contracts as UD41 medical officers from May 2020 to May 2022 to complete their compulsory government service. MOH’s offer letter stated that this would be their final contract. No one from that batch reportedly received a permanent post.

Dr Lee also called for additional human resources in MOH to conduct contact tracing for Covid-19, saying that district health offices had insufficient staff.

“This is because the current health officials need to do contact tracing and also other public health work, like for tuberculosis; dengue; chikungunya; food poisoning; hand, foot and mouth disease; HIV infections; and the like.

“A special allocation should be given to MOH to increase capacity in public health, in terms of staff and the like.”

Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah said Monday that dengue fever cases have been rising for the past six weeks, increasing at an average of 8 percentage points each week.

Dr Lee said if MOH had a dedicated Covid-19 team, it could not only do contact tracing, but also help business operators understand and follow standard operating procedures (SOP) to curb coronavirus transmission.

The Gopeng MP also said the SOPs should be simplified into general guidelines across industries, with specific ones only for businesses with high risk of Covid-19 transmission. The overall SOPs by the National Security Council on the reopening of the economy runs into over 200 pages.

Dr Lee further urged MOH to conduct regular Covid-19 screening, especially for health care workers who are considered to be “high-risk”, foreign workers, and certain institutions like old folks’ homes and student hostels. The elderly have a higher chance of developing severe disease from the coronavirus.

“For patients admitted into wards, whether government or private, there should also be regular screening of patients with respiratory illnesses. Although some of these screenings are continuing, I hope it can be expanded further.”

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