KUALA LUMPUR, July 31 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) said it has outsourced its helicopter medical services for people living in the interiors to the private sector for cost reasons.
MOH provides Flying Doctor Service (FDS) and Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) for Sabah, Sarawak, and the Orang Asli residing in rural areas in Perak and Kelantan, as some areas in those states have limited access to health facilities amid difficult geographical terrain.
“The Flying Doctor Service and MEDEVAC services have been outsourced to the private sector because it is more cost-effective, compared to the cost of creating an air unit in the Ministry of Health that involves the purchase of helicopters or aircraft, besides the rather high cost of maintenance and operations,” Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said in a written Parliament reply on July 28 to Hulu Langat MP Hasanuddin Mohd Yunus, without specifying which company the services have been contracted to.
The Amanah lawmaker had asked the health minister to state if MOH intended to create its own air unit or air ambulance for use in the interiors, like in other developed countries, as other local agencies’ helicopter services have already reached maximum usage.
“MOH is very concerned in ensuring that people receive health and medical services with the concept of ‘No One Is Left Behind’,” said Dr Adham.
“The MOH is providing comprehensive access to health services, including air ambulance services,” he added, citing FDS and MEDEVAC.
FDS is a mobile clinic service involving a health team consisting of medical officers, nurses, assistant medical officers, nutritionists, and public health assistants.
Outpatient services, maternal and child health services such as antenatal care, postnatal, immunisation, follow-up treatment for chronic diseases, light treatment procedures, basic laboratory support (point of care testing), and pharmacy services are available in the FDS.
“In addition, services like health screening and health promotion activities, dental services, as well as providing food baskets for malnourished children have been prepared under this service,” Dr Adham mentioned.
MEDEVAC uses helicopters to transport critical patients from one health facility to another for referral purposes, as well as for follow-up treatment either from public health clinics to hospitals, or from one hospital to another.
Former Sarawak state health director Dr Andrew Kiyu told a conference organised by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy last December that the FDS only goes to villages monthly at most, or once every quarter at least. Even if the FDS visits villages every month, the health team only spends three hours at a particular place.
Medical evacuations also can’t be carried out by the FDS, according to a Sarawak state health department official at the conference, saying that for most cases, patients would still have to travel by road.