As Bill Looms, Government Reminded Not To Jail Doctors Over Mandatory Prescriptions

Medical groups will continue to oppose the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill if it remains the same as the one tabled for first reading.

KUALA LUMPUR, August 25 — The Ministry of Health (MOH) has promised to remove a provision from the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill that proposed imprisoning medical practitioners who do not provide prescriptions upon request, stakeholders said.

The second reading of the Poisons (Amendment) 2019 Bill is on the agenda of the current Dewan Rakyat meeting. But it may not be tabled in time before the parliamentary meeting ends this Thursday, as the Poisons Bill is currently listed as the seventh item on the Parliament order paper, behind various pieces of legislation, including a Bill on temporary measures to reduce the impact of Covid-19, as well as amendments to the Insolvency Act and Road Transport Act, among others.

MOH conducted a stakeholders’ meeting last February, chaired by Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah — before the new Perikatan Nasional (PN) government took power — to discuss the impact of suggested amendments to the Poisons Act 1952 that regulates medicines.

“The ministry agreed that practitioners who do not provide prescription to a patient upon request will be referred to the Medical Council for the action to be taken by the council,” Dr Milton Lum, former Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president, told CodeBlue in an interview.

“No fine, no jail term. That’s what the ministry agreed.”

MMA strongly urged MOH to remove the provision from the Bill criminalising practitioners who do not provide drug prescriptions requested by patients, where doctors, dentists, and veterinarians face up to five years’ jail, a maximum RM50,000 fine, or both. Groups representing those health professionals had widely opposed the Bill when it was tabled by the then-Pakatan Harapan government last November.

“That has been MMA’s stand and MOH had reassured us that it will be removed. MMA does not support criminalisation of any professional group, including pharmacists,” said MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran.

It is to be noted that the February stakeholders’ engagement conducted by MOH was before the formation of the PN administration, which also raised uncertainty among medical groups. Dr Adham Baba replaced Dzulkefly Ahmad as Health Minister.

“There’s a change in government. So from our side, we are not sure about the details of the Bill now,” said Malaysian Pharmaceutical Society president Amrahi Buang.

“There was a discussion among stakeholders. That was done before the change of government. I think if that stays, that portion will not be mentioned in the coming Bill,” the head of the pharmacists’ group told CodeBlue.

Medical groups also echoed the voice of general practitioners (GPs) in opposing the Poisons amendment Bill if it remains the same as the one tabled for first reading.

“We hope that the ministry will speak to its word. If it is not amended, the reaction will be the same as last time,” said Dr Lum.

Dr Ganabaskaran said: “The MPs should reject it as it will have a serious impact on patient safety and health which is our highest concern.”

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia (MPCAM) president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah also expressed his expectations for necessary changes made to the amendment Bill.

“We have given detailed feedback on many issues in the Poisons Act. We have confidence that the Health Minister and Deputy Health Minister will reject the bill if it remains unchanged and compromises the practice of medicine and troubles our patients,” Dr Raj Kumar told CodeBlue.

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