Hartal Expects Over 18,000 Doctors To Join July 26 Strike

Organisers of the hartal movement expect a strong majority of the country’s 23,077 contract doctors to take part in the strike as “things are more dire than before” and many are at breaking point.

KUALA LUMPUR, July 23 — More than 18,000 contract doctors are expected to stop work on July 26 to protest against the government’s contract scheme for junior doctors, organisers claim.

An independent group of contract doctors organising the #HartalDoktorKontrak movement will push ahead with plans to start a strike next week as demands set out to settle the longstanding issue remain unanswered despite pledges made to raise the matter in Cabinet on July 14.

Dr Mustapha Kamal A Aziz, a spokesperson for the anonymous group, said it now expects a strong majority of the country’s 23,077 contract doctors to take part in the strike as “things are more dire than before” and that many are at breaking point.

“Health care workers are very stressed up and some have ended up seeing psychiatrists for burnout,” Dr Mustapha Kamal told CodeBlue yesterday. He expects participation to hit up to 80 per cent though some are worried about legal ramifications from joining the hartal.

Health Minister Dr Adham Baba previously informed the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) that medical doctors would risk deregistration by going on strike. 

Senior physician and former MMA president Dr Milton Lum, however, told CodeBlue that it was “simplistic” to assume that individual contract doctors could easily be struck off the register on allegations that a doctors’ strike resulted in harm to patients.

Dr Lum, who viewed disagreements over the contract scheme as a labour issue, said it will not be easy for the accusing party to prove that a strike causes harm to patients, as the onus is on the employer to look for a replacement doctor to care for the patient.

Previously, the group said that medical officers assigned to Covid-19 hospitals will not be mobilised on the day of the strike, unless precise arrangements can be made amid a surging epidemic that is particularly brutal in the Klang Valley.

Dr Mustapha Kamal said he is confident of a strong turnout on Monday after a hospital in the Klang Valley saw at least 15 resignations in the past two weeks, as reported by Malaysiakini. Two of the resignation letters identified were a 24-hour notice by contract doctors.

He expects more to have resigned over the past five years since the contract system was first introduced in December 2016. 

“I think it could be (up to) 10 per cent (of 23,077) perhaps. Many have left the service for the private sector and university hospitals,” Dr Mustapha Kamal said. “That is my assumption.”

The group, in an online media briefing on July 1, said that contract doctors will not bow down to top-down pressure from the ministry, following the issuance of an MOH circular that warned civil servants of termination risks should they publicly criticise government policy on social media.

Dr Mustapha Kamal had then cited Article 10 of the federal constitution which highlights every citizen’s right to freedom of speech and expression, as well as to assemble peaceably and without arms. 

“Nobody is above the law, and the law is interpreted in the courtroom by the judge. So, whatever happens, let it be (settled) in the courtroom. For now, we will do what is best for the nation’s health care. That is our aim,” he said, adding that the group has the backing of a legal team.

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