KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 — Hang Tuah Jaya MP Shamsul Iskandar Akin today listed eight Ministry of Health (MOH) medical programmes with funding cuts totalling RM717.8 million for 2021.
The PKR lawmaker said pharmacy and supplies — as well as public health services covering nephrology, cardiothoracic, radiotherapy and oncology, general medicine, anaesthesiology and intensive care, respiratory medicine, and psychiatry and mental health — saw reductions in their total allocations from RM27.94 billion in this year’s budget to RM27.22 billion for next year.
“Aside from the Covid-19 pandemic, these programmes with reduced allocations really need sufficient funding from the government, as they cover the most common diseases in Malaysia,” Shamsul Iskandar said when debating MOH’s 2021 budget at the committee stage in Parliament.
He cited MOH’s 2016 statistics that showed more than 40,000 new cases related to cardiovascular problems each year, including 4,000 cases of heart disease. This requires at least 160 cardiothoracic surgeons to perform surgery on 10 to 15 per cent of these 4,000 patients, with surgery numbers not showing a decrease over the years.
“Therefore, the allocation for cardiothoracic really needs to be sufficient to accommodate the ratio in MOH’s records that show there are only 57 cardiothoracic surgeons in this country, or one surgeon per 500,000 people,” said Shamsul Iskandar.
He also noted that nephrology suffered the biggest cut at 77.61 per cent, even though kidney disease is prevalent in Malaysia.
Shamsul Iskandar cited MOH medical development division director Dr Bahari Awang Ngah as saying that kidney patients nationwide are expected to reach 106,000 by the year 2040. According to the National Renal Registry, at the end of 2016, a total of 39,711 people with kidney failure were undergoing dialysis treatment across the country.
As peritoneal dialysis and haemodialysis are costly, said Shamsul Iskandar, the budget cuts will affect government subsidies for kidney patients.
The Opposition lawmaker urged MOH to review funding cuts for the eight medical programmes and to explain the reductions, particularly for cardiovascular and nephrology, as both diseases have been the most common causes of death for Malaysians, totalling 172,031 fatalities in 2018, according to MOH statistics.
He said the allocation cut of 9.11 per cent for psychiatry and mental health is also worrying, as there has been an increase in mental health issues amid the Covid-19 pandemic and movement restrictions that affected people’s livelihoods.
Shamsul Iskandar cited police statistics of 266 suicides reported throughout the Movement Control Order (MCO) period from March 18 to October 30, or an average of one suicide every day.
“The funding allocation for psychiatry and mental health must be perused. In fact, the government, through MOH, must think of the best solutions to ensure that mental health is prioritised, besides taking care of physical health.”
Shamsul Iskandar also questioned why the government increased allocations for “contributions to other bodies” under MOH’s specific programmes in its operational expenditure, from RM55.5 million in 2020 to RM72.18 million in 2021.
“What bodies are these?”
The allocation for new hospitals, meanwhile, was reduced from RM394.3 million for 2020 to RM366 million for next year, Shamsul Iskandar noted, asking about the progress of a women and children’s hospital in Melaka that was announced last year.
The budget for information and communications technology, however, doubled from RM30.7 million in 2020 to RM62.5 million for 2021. Shamsul Iskandar asked for MOH’s specific plan on digitalisation.
Shamsul Iskandar further asked why clinic support services were not allocated any funding whatsoever for next year, compared to their RM137.3 million allocation in 2020.
Despite a heated debate, the Dewan Rakyat today passed MOH’s 2021 budget at the committee stage in a voice vote.