KUCHING, July 20 — The Sarawak state government has proposed a separate body to register and regulate medical practice in Sarawak independently of the nationwide Malaysian Medical Council (MMC).
Sarawak Minister for Local Government and Housing Dr Sim Kui Hian, who is also GPS vice president and SUPP president, noted that statutory bodies governing the legal profession is divided according to region: the Malaysian Bar regulates legal practice in peninsular Malaysia, whereas legal practitioners in Sarawak and Sabah are governed by the Advocates Association of Sarawak and the Sabah Law Society respectively.
Dr Sim, a cardiologist, pointed out that the MMC — which is headed by president Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who is also Health director-general at the federal Ministry of Health (MOH) — only has one representative from Sarawak and Sabah each.
“Perhaps the Sarawak Medical Council can impose a 10-year contract for doctors to serve in Sarawak,” suggested Dr Sim in a recent interview with CodeBlue at his office at Wisma Bapa Malaysia here, adding that a Sarawakian should head the Sarawak Medical Council.
He lamented that Sarawakian medical officers were not getting permanent posts in MOH, whereas West Malaysian doctors posted to Sarawak are unlikely to serve the state for long as there are not many opportunities to further their career in the private sector here.
The Malaysian Junior Doctors 2020, a new bipartisan group headed by Meradong assemblyman Ding Kuong Hiing from SUPP that is lobbying for permanent posts for young doctors, previously pointed out that as early as last January, less than 10 per cent of medical officers offered permanent posts in Sarawak hospitals were Sarawakians.
“Sarawak wants RM2.5 billion for health every year for five years,” Dr Sim told CodeBlue, as he urged Putrajaya to restore Sarawak’s health autonomy.
“If it’s not enough, we can top up,” he said, adding that Sarawak should be free to decide how to use the federal government’s health budget allocation to Sarawak. Sarawak currently gets RM2 billion for health.
The Sarawak minister in charge of health revealed that the state government spent more than RM10 million on the Covid-19 outbreak to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE) for Sarawakian health care workers, which he said had been “very slow” in coming from the federal government; PCR testing machines; reagents to test swab samples; and an allowance for state frontliners, including RM300 monthly for health care workers.
Dr Sim said Sarawak’s main health care issues comprise rural health and urban health. Ninety of over 1,000 public health clinics (Klinik Kesihatan) in Malaysia’s largest state by geographic size still lack clean water and sufficient facilities at staff quarters.
“In the last two years, the Sarawak government spent RM8 million to help the federal government improve facilities of rural clinics,” he said, adding that the state government was also building a second trunk road and a new tower for internet access in the next two to three years.
He expressed hope that 99 per cent of government clinics in Sarawak would have electricity in the next two to three years.
Sarawak’s urban health, said the state minister, must also be improved, as the state’s urban population is projected to rise from 60 per cent this year to 80 per cent by 2030.
“We need more specialist hospitals and a cancer centre, as well as more hospital beds,” said Dr Sim.
Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) in Kuching is the only public hospital in Sarawak with sub-specialists. Sarawak Heart Center, an MOH facility, is also located in the state capital.
Dr Sim pointed out that with the construction of the estimated 2,083km-long Pan Borneo Highway connecting Sabah and Sarawak, orthopaedic surgeons and neurosurgeons were necessary with a projection in the rise of motor accidents.
According to the 2010 federal census, the state capital of Kuching has a 700,000-strong population. Sarawak’s population was estimated to comprise 2.81 million people last year.
Dr Sim said Kuching’s population was estimated to grow to one million residents in the next few years, which means that a third of Sarawak’s population will be living in Kuching. Yet, there are only an estimated 1,200 hospital beds in the state capital, according to the state minister, with a hospital bed to population ratio of 1.7:1,000.
The 11th Malaysia Plan targets a hospital bed to population ratio of 2.3:1,000, but the national ratio stood at 1.98 beds per 1,000 residents across public and private hospitals in 2018.
“National norms are not applicable to Sarawak,” said Dr Sim. “Sarawak needs health autonomy.”