KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — Less than half of government doctors and dentists, including specialists, working in permanent positions in Sarawak are Sarawakians, according to Health Minister Dr Adham Baba.
He told Senator Robert Lau Hui Yew (SUPP) in the Dewan Negara that as of June 30 this year, 36.5 per cent (884 people) of 2,422 permanent medical officers and medical specialists in Sarawak are Sarawakians.
Sarawakians comprised 43.2 per cent (120 people) of 278 permanent dental officers and dental specialists in Sarawak, as of June 30.
“Currently, the Ministry of Health (MOH), from time to time, is trying to fill job vacancies to meet the needs of service,” Dr Adham told Senator Lau in a written parliamentary reply on September 7.
“In April this year, 94 permanent medical officers have accepted offers to serve in Sarawak. MOH also plans to place at least 100 more permanent medical officers this year.”
Dr Adham did not specify how many of the 94 new permanent medical officers were Sarawakian, amid claims from SUPP that Sarawakians comprised nine, or less than 10 per cent, of 102 medical officers nationwide who received offers of permanent positions in Sarawak last April.
The health minister said that as of June 30, all 421 positions for medical specialists and 21 spots for dental specialists in the public sector in Sarawak have been filled. There are a total of 2,001 medical officers in Sarawak with 414 vacancies, as well as 257 dental officers with 69 vacancies. MOH has placed a total of 920 contract medical officers in Sarawak.
Deputy Health Minister II Aaron Ago Dagang acknowledged separately at a forum Tuesday a shortage of manpower in MOH, citing doctor postings to Sabah and Sarawak as one of problems amid a lack of staff quarters and other facilities in rural areas.
“There are doctors that are quite reluctant to go to rural areas to service our clinics and hospitals, which is not easy to solve,” he said.
“I have visited a few hospitals and clinics in rural areas. We see that the postings aren’t really conducive for living, especially since doctors in those areas don’t have suitable quarters.”
The Sarawakian deputy minister, who is also Kanowit MP, said to alleviate the problem, MOH sends doctors from urban areas to visit rural clinics, perhaps every week, so that they can help nurses and other staff handle serious medical cases.
He also claimed that the Flying Doctor Service (FDS), which provides medical treatment by helicopter, flies to the interiors of Sarawak every day, if weather permits, to places like Serikai, Sibu, Baram, Ulu Rejang, and even the state capital of Kuching.
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.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba told the Dewan Rakyat last July that MOH has outsourced its Flying Doctor Service and Medical Evacuation (MEDEVAC) helicopter medical services for Sabah, Sarawak, and rural areas in Perak and Kelantan, to the private sector.
In August, Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, at the Dewan Rakyat, suggested that MOH use service in district hospitals and rural clinics as a criterion in offering doctors permanent posts as an incentive, while pointing out that 45.6 per cent of clinics in the interiors of Sarawak are run by nurses and medical assistants only.
He also noted that many West Malaysian doctors transferred to Sarawak eventually moved back to their home states after their two-year compulsory service with the government.