KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 12 — Lanang MP Alice Lau, who is a pharmacist, has criticised major cuts for pharmacy and supplies, whose allocations under the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) 2021 budget were transferred out of the department.
MOH has explained that the allocations for medical supplies across the medical, public health, pharmacy services, and dental programmes were shifted to two lump sum budgets under “Specific Programmes” in operating expenditure. Pharmacy and supplies had an allocation of RM1.94 billion in 2020, but it got cut by 73.58 per cent to RM512.98 million for 2021.
“Although the Finance Minister explained that the allocation has not been cut but moved under a special item, which is ‘Specific Programmes’, what are the reasons and rationale for this change?” Lau asked while debating on Budget 2021 at the Dewan Rakyat yesterday.
“As a pharmacist, I think this change will increase bureaucracy and ‘paperwork’ to applicants who want to apply for additional allocations for this Specific Programme. My question is who will decide the distribution of this allocation to the departments involved?” Lau said.
She gave a scenario of how the shifts of allocations for MOH programmes, including public health and health care services, to lump sum budgets will slow down the treatment plan of a doctor, which may only cause harmful effects to a patient’s health.
“Imagine if a doctor has to tell the patient that he is not sure if the patient will get the medicine supply because they will have to wait for the hospital’s approval for the allocation of that medication or the patient has to buy the medication from outside.
“In this situation, who will be blamed? Those in the pharmacy department, although it is out of their control,” the Lanang MP stressed.
The Sarawakian lawmaker urged the Finance Ministry to restore the existing system by providing the allocation directly to each department for more transparency, while facilitating the treatment process for the benefit of the patients.
When Budget 2021 was tabled last Friday, it was noted that allocations under various programmes in the Health Ministry, including medical, public health, and dental health, were slashed as compared to this year.
MOH said that allocations for medical supplies, including drugs, were transferred to two new budget items to enable a comprehensive monitoring of all MOH expenses — RM2.89 billion for health facilities’ medical supplies and RM1.4 billion in financial commitment for private concession of medical laboratories and stores, both of which were placed under Specific Programmes.
Furthermore, Lau said she disagreed with the RM85.5 million allocation for the Special Affairs Department (JASA) under the Ministry of Communications and Multimedia, which has been touted as a Barisan Nasional propaganda unit.
She suggested for this allocation to be used to increase Covid-19 testing capacity and to purchase personal protective equipment or supplies for hospitals in Sarawak or hospitals that may be in dire need, like Sibu Hospital.
“This budget can be used to increase the testing capacity for Covid-19 screening to 5,000 people a day as the existing facility in Sarawak only has 2,400 tests a day.”