MPCAM: ‘Draconian’ Poisons Bill Criminalises Doctors, Health Professionals

MPCAM says the Poisons amendment Bill will discourage GPs from keeping medicines in their clinics, even as doctors have been opposing MOH’s dispensing separation proposal.

KUALA LUMPUR, March 16 – The Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia (MPCAM) today urged MPs to reject the Poisons amendment Bill that significantly increases penalties for medicine-related offences.

MPCAM president Dr Raj Kumar Maharajah said the proposed amendment to the Poisons Act 1952, which regulates medicines, was tabled in the Dewan Rakyat last Monday without prior stakeholder consultation.

“The Ministry of Health (MOH) has never explained what’s the problem at hand and if the proposed draconian amendments could solve the problem,” Dr Raj Kumar said in a statement.

MPCAM also questioned the clause in the Poisons amendment Bill that protects authorised officers from civil lawsuits and criminal prosecution if they acted in “good faith”, noting that the definition of “good faith” was subjective and open to abuse.

“The pharmacy enforcement officers seem to be above the law in this new amended Bill. So many other enforcement agencies dealing with internal security do not enjoy such protection, so why pharmacy enforcement officers?” said Dr Raj Kumar. 

“Police officers, customs officers, and immigration officers who deal with matters of internal security do not enjoy immunity as much as what has been suggested by the Ministry of Health for the director-general and officers.”

MPCAM said MOH could be wrong, pointing out that the ministry’s claim that a state of Emergency could contain the Covid-19 epidemic turned out to be wrong when infections and deaths spiked last year instead. Some 31,000 people died from Covid-19 in Malaysia in 2021.

The doctors’ group said general practitioners (GPs) and patients have been fighting back against MOH’s plans to introduce dispensing separation, where doctors will only be allowed to prescribe medications that are dispensed separately by pharmacists.

“This new amendment seems to be a clandestine backdoor approach to frustrate general practitioners and make the practice of medicine difficult until the general practitioners themselves decide not to keep medicines in the clinics,” said MPCAM.

The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), another doctors’ group, earlier called for a review of penalties and enhanced enforcement powers granted to pharmacy enforcement officers in the Poisons amendment Bill.

Proposed amendments revise general penalties for offences under the Poisons Act from the maximum one-year jail term to up to five years’ imprisonment, besides increasing 17-fold the maximum quantum for fines from RM3,000 to RM50,000.

The Poisons amendment Bill 2022 also substantially enhances the powers of pharmacy enforcement officers in the public sector that investigate private general practitioner (GP) clinics, vet clinics, dental clinics, and community pharmacies for any medicine-related offences under the Poisons Act. 

Appointed drug enforcement officers can search any premises and seize any drug, machinery, equipment, register, document, or computerised data by force if there is “reasonable” cause to suspect that an offence is being committed.

“The amended Poisons Bill should be rejected by Parliament as it gives too much powers to civil servants and too high penalties,” said MPCAM.

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