While I support harnessing the strength of the private health care sector in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the government’s drastic action in using Emergency Powers is excessive, especially in nationalising private health care institutions or facilities, possibly without giving equitable remuneration to those involved.
However, if the government intends to give some sort of remuneration, how much does Putrajaya plan to compensate private hospitals for treating both Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients?
On top of that, what assistance will be offered to help them prepare or equip themselves to handle such cases?
Through the emergency proclamation, the prime minister said that emergency ordinances can be enacted to cover the use of private hospital assets, to temporary take over land, buildings or properties of private hospitals, or to request the use of private hospital resources to treat Covid-19 patients.
The justification given was that it is so that the “the government can get a more inclusive participation from the private sector, including private health care facilities to reduce the burden borne by government agencies, especially public hospitals”.
The fact of the matter is, in order to obtain active participation by the private sector, all is needed is proper engagement with them, including coming up with an equitable arrangement with them, and not forcing them into a kind of submission under the emergency ordinances.
This has caused much uncertainty and anxiety among those in the private sector, which is supposed to be the government’s strategic partner in handling the pandemic. Why was there no proper engagement with them before such an announcement was made, especially when it involves their private rights?
Actually, for months, if not years, the Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia (APHM) has been proposing to the Ministry of Health to put together a public-private operational arrangement and funding arrangements at industry or even national level to deal with the pandemic.
However, they have received little response from the government.
For months, health experts have recommended to increase the involvement of the private health care system, including the General Practitioners (GPs), as part of both diagnosis and treatment of Covid-19. This also includes helping to administer the Covid-19 vaccine to the general population so that we can reach the necessary target percentage of the population at a quicker rate.
The government must be clear with their plans, including how they intend to mobilise the private sector to fill in the gaps in the current approach, including the need for mass testing, faster contact tracing and proper isolation.
What assurance will the government give them that they will not continue to impose this forced ‘nationalisation’ after August 2021?
Will there be proper incentives, including tax incentives, to keep operations sustainable and to sustain jobs within the private sector?
That is why I urge the government to properly engage the private health care sector and treat them as strategic partners, rather than force or strong-arm them into something they are willing to do in the first place. We need all hands on deck, especially if we want to achieve a whole-of-society approach to properly manage this pandemic.
Dr Kelvin Yii is the Member of Parliament for Bandar Kuching.
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