Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, visited Kuching, Sarawak, on April 12 and 13, 2021 to take stock of the Covid-19 pandemic situation in Sarawak.
Shortly after, he declared that 430 Ministry of Health personnel will be sent to Sarawak to assist in the region’s Covid-19 response.
This swift and decisive action by the minister is applaudable, but it marked the start of a logistical nightmare for 126 medical officers reassigned from various states across Malaysia to serve Sarawak.
Just to be clear, there is no dispute over the necessity of such a reassignment, given the huge spike in number of daily Covid-19 cases reported in Sarawak.
The vast majority of, if not all, doctors in Malaysia have signed up for the medical profession fully expecting a lifelong career of selfless service.
Redeployment from our home states to Sarawak to serve on the Covid-19 frontlines, donned in suffocating full personal protective equipment for hours on end just to ensure our patients recover as soon as possible – that is our calling and duty. However, there exists human limits to our abilities to answer this call.
The notice to report for duty (surat penempatan semula) was provided only on April 14, 2021 (Wednesday), with the date of reporting set for April 19, 2021.
This would have been a tall order under normal circumstances, but with the limited number of flights entering Sarawak during the Covid-19 pandemic, obtaining a flight ticket to Kuching from certain cities was outright impossible.
Some officers who managed to secure the last few flight seats to Kuching from their previous places of practice paid north of RM2,000 (about half of our monthly salary!) without any official guarantee of possible reimbursement of relocation costs.
The haphazard implementation of this relocation exercise was compounded by the lack of response from the Sarawak State Health Department (JKNS) to queries seeking clarifications.
A huge number of us had frantically attempted to contact JKNS via email or phone, to no avail. We were thus left hanging and unsure as to the possibility of postponing our date of reporting, despite the aforementioned logistical and transport issues.
JKNS eventually responded to an official letter of request for deferment submitted via one of the hospitals only on the night of April 16, 2021 (Friday). The JKNS representative verbally informed that deferments were only allowed up to a week, instead of the usual two weeks.
This would not have been an issue for us medical officers, save for the lack of adequate notice and time for preparations as well as the lack of available flights to Kuching.
Of the few medical officers who managed to get through to JKNS, the unsympathetic voice of a representative from the manpower department flatly brushed off any explanations given.
Never mind that Sarawak was across the South China Sea from Peninsular Malaysia, with no available flights for the majority of us!
Zero consideration was given to the circumstances – we were told that medical officers who were unable to present themselves within a week of the official reporting date would be charged with Failure to Report for Duty, and consequently face corresponding disciplinary actions.
To add insult to injury, this JKNS representative has told several officers on separate occasions to reach Sarawak by the deadline regardless the means OR choose to resign from service. What an act of self-sabotage, especially during a time when manpower is sorely needed!
April 19, 2021 has since come and gone. Some of us have remained in our current place of practice, awaiting further instructions via an official channel.
A few brave souls have overcome the odds to reach Sarawak on the specified date and are now serving their quarantine order as per Sarawak Disaster Management Committee regulations – these people reportedly are “stranded” in their quarantine hotel rooms, yet to establish contact with JKNS representatives regarding the local logistics of their reporting orders.
Is it too much to ask for proper planning and administration in the reallocation of manpower? And in the event of emergency mobilisations such as this, can we not approach the necessary discussion of logistics with civility and basic courtesy?
For all the awards that our health care system receives for its patient care, is this the best support we health care workers can expect from our health care administrators?
CodeBlue is publishing this letter anonymously because of the government’s gag order on civil servants.
- This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of CodeBlue.