The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) thanks the government for recognising the need to boost healthcare in managing the pandemic with additional allocations under its PERMAI stimulus package.
While these will indeed be urgent steps to take to manage the surge in cases of COVID-19, it is hoped that other long-standing issues affecting the government health care workforce will not be overlooked. These other issues, if left to fester, over time will affect the standard of health care.
Addressing human resources issues in government health care will be vital in the fight against Covid-19 and beyond.
Permanent Positions And Contract Extensions
The pandemic has underscored the severe understaffing of our workforce, with many doctors forced to be placed on an increased number of calls compared to previously. This shortage of doctors exists at both the specialist and medical officer levels. Yet, only a small proportion of contract medical officers have been offered permanent positions in government service, with the fate of the remaining doctors left hanging and unknown.
More permanent posts for medical officers need to be created immediately to ensure adequate manpower to continue the fight against COVID-19 and future pandemics, on top of routine health care services. The remainder of medical officers not given permanent posts must be offered an extended contract of at least 10 years, in order to allow them to specialise and progress further.
MMA hopes that the government will soon provide more details on if the additional 3,500 health care personnel under the PERMAI stimulus package refers to permanent positions or contract positions and if there are any positions being created for doctors.
Safeguarding The Health Of All Clinical Staff
The Ministry’s stock of high grade, quality personal protective equipment (PPEs) should be closely monitored, to ensure constant and adequate supply even as daily utilisation increases with the worsening pandemic situation. We cannot afford to allow our medical personnel onto the battlefield without their shields against the virus. One infected personnel equates to one less staff member and one more patient.
Other than physical health, it is important that we do not inadvertently overlook psychological and mental health too. Mental and psychological support for our medical personnel is also important to ensure that they can continue to serve the rakyat at their best. The Mental Health and Psychosocial Support (MHPSS) hotline had proven invaluable during the first wave of Covid-19, and we strongly suggest that the Ministry look into providing more resources into similar initiatives to ensure that our healthcare staff and patients are looked after alike.
Welfare And Support For Health Care Workers Besides The UD43/44 Harmonisation
Covid-19 allowances must be extended to all staff exposed to the clinical environment, including to our often-forgotten backliners. Some of the healthcare staff are also on a seven-day working schedule due to the pandemic. If conditions permit, each staff member should be given their due rest each week to prevent fatigue and burnout.
In terms of financial remuneration, MMA takes the stand that our doctors’ Critical Allowance should be continued indefinitely without further review. Furthermore, the fact that healthcare workers are considered essential services and required to work through the Movement Control Orders proves that our doctors are a critical and vital sector, responsible for providing care for the nation. The critical nature of our doctors’ work remains unchanged with or without the pandemic, regardless of available supply.
With regards to the harmonisation of pay grade for contract medical officers from UD41 and UD43/44, MMA understands that while the fight against the pandemic is the highest priority now, this is still an important issue to address for more than 1,000 affected contract medical officers. Further delays to its implementation mean the missing out on the income the affected medical officers are entitled to.
It is hoped the government will soon provide a concrete timeline for its implementation and officially announce its expected rollout. The harmonisation will also serve as a huge morale booster for our deployed contract doctors on the frontlines, who are already fatigued and feeling dispensable by the system.
Health Care Workers’ Annual Leave
Last year, as the country grappled with the Covid-19 pandemic, each state health department had at varying times issued the order to freeze the annual leave of all staff. As such, healthcare workers have excess leave that they were unable to utilise fully in 2020, and this looks likely to recur in 2021 as well. This leave is forfeited if not utilised after a certain period.
As such, we ask that the government guarantee allowing the unused leave of healthcare workers to be carried forward to be utilised at a time when the pandemic is manageable.
MMA has written officially to the prime minister to meet on these matters.
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