Over 15,000 Contract Doctors Plan Strike Amid Crushing Epidemic

Contract medical officers are planning a day-long walkout on July 26 outside their respective government health care facilities in each state.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — More than 15,000 contract doctors will wage a nationwide strike for a single day next month to protest against the government’s contract scheme for junior doctors, organisers claimed. 

Junior doctors or doctors in training — who form the bulk of the country’s Covid-19 health work force — are planning a day-long walkout on July 26 outside their respective public health care facilities in each state, according to a member of the independent group organising the strike, who spoke to CodeBlue on condition of anonymity.

About 60 to 70 per cent of 23,077 contract medical officers in Malaysia have shown interest in joining the strike, the group’s internal data showed. 

The junior doctors have also expressed support for the group’s memorandum that will be sent to the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) on Wednesday (June 30).

When asked if the 24-hour work stoppage will affect emergency care patients, including those with Covid-19, the spokesperson said the group does not want their patients to be affected.

“We don’t want to cripple our health care system. We love our jobs, we genuinely love our patients. We don’t want to hurt anyone in this process, but we want those who are responsible to do something,” he said.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, in a Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force press conference on June 21, said Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy stood at 92 per cent as of June 20, with 1,096 patients (confirmed, suspected, and probable Covid-19 cases) filling 1,187 beds provided nationwide.

A total of 594 confirmed, suspected, and probable Covid-19 patients are on ventilator support, out of 1,291 ventilators available for coronavirus cases.

The spokesperson said government officials have reached out to the committee, though the anonymity of the group meant they could not nail down anyone. “And we want to stay that way.”

He said organisers of the planned protest will also be having talks with the Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers, and Specialists (SCHOMOS) soon. Both the MMA and SCHOMOS said they do not condone a strike.

“If something substantial is on the table, then it (the strike) will not happen, but until anything is on paper and black and white and in effect, it is still on,” the spokesperson said, adding that the nature of the protest will be “something symbolic”.

The group said they are planning a solidarity movement, akin to the ‘Code Black’ online protest initiated by SCHOMOS that will be launched on July 1. 

The anonymous group also ran an open letter on Sunday that raised concerns over the lack of career progression for contract doctors, alongside challenges from mounting student debt and no job security, leaving many with young families under immense pressure. 

“We honour the constitution and it is not our intent to disrupt harmony in the country. But after three changes in government and three changes in health ministers, there has been no progress made on this issue. We need answers and we need results that are physical in nature,” the group said in the letter.

The letter was emailed to MOH and MMC.

Meanwhile, it was confirmed that junior medical officers from the Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Terengganu were engaged by MOH officials in an hour-long session on Sunday. Contract doctors were warned of disciplinary action if they engage in the strike next month.

Commenting on requests to call off the strike, the spokesperson said doing nothing will only result in “detrimental” harm.

Public support for #HartalDoktorKontrak has gained traction over the weekend, with Umno deputy president Mohamad Hasan weighing in by calling on the government for an immediate formula to absorb contract medical doctors into the public health care system.

“It is true that absorption into permanent posts typically occurs when there is a vacancy. But our health system can no longer operate at its previous capacity with the number of posts allocated by the Public Service Department at pre-pandemic ratios and norms.

“The current emergency situation requires the Ministry of Health to work out a more strategic and sustainable employment policy in primary care, mental health, hospital and medical infrastructure development, preventive health and medical research,” Mohamad said.

The contract system for not just doctors, but also dentists and pharmacists, was introduced by the then-Barisan Nasional administration in 2016. Since then, the Pakatan Harapan administration and current Perikatan Nasional government have failed to introduce long-term measures to absorb more doctors into permanent service, despite increasing numbers of medical graduates and insufficient doctors catering to growing demands for public health care. 

Under the contract system, medical officers can only work in the public sector for five years (comprising up to three years of housemanship and two years’ compulsory service), after which they will be pushed into the private sector or be forced to continue specialist training overseas.

Dr Adham’s latest statement on the issue maintained that permanent posts would only be opened up for medical officers whenever vacancies arise — usually after retirement. 

An online petition demanding permanent contracts for young doctors has also garnered over 75,000 signatures, as public concerns mount over the future of health care professionals.

MMA and SCHOMOS in a Facebook post on Friday said Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz agreed to expedite resolutions on issues faced by contract doctors, following an urgent meeting to discuss issues raised in an MMA letter sent on June 23.

Both the MMA and SCHOMOS said they will not condone a work strike in the environs of a pandemic, and will instead plan for a day of solidarity for junior doctors. It will also request for a town hall session to allow ground sentiment to be heard.

Yesterday, the medical group announced a “Black Monday” movement as a way for the nation to stand by the country’s junior doctors in solidarity. The movement, also known as “Code Black” — a reference to the contract health care worker issue, likened to a ticking time bomb — will take place between July 1 and 12. 

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