KUALA LUMPUR, March 31 – The multiple fire outbreaks at Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA), including one that killed six patients in 2016, would have resulted in the hospital’s closure if it was a private entity, said former Health director-general Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman.
Dr Abu Bakar, who was part of a seven-member independent committee to investigate the October 25, 2016 fire disaster at the Johor Baru public hospital, said under the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 (Act 586), a private hospital’s licence would have been revoked if such a “disaster” occured in its facility.
“I remembered discussing that (Act 586) with the Minister of Health (then) and we pushed the concept that government hospitals, in the way it is run, need to be licensed just like private hospitals.
“So, we put up a paper for that to the Attorney-General’s (AG) Chambers – but the AG’s Chambers didn’t agree with us. Nonetheless, we put up the proposal.
“But they refused to entertain it because they said they cannot defend as well as prosecute government hospitals, so it becomes very hard,” said Dr Abu Bakar during a panel discussion after the launch of United Nations University-International Institute for Global Health’s book titled “Malaysian Health Care: Building for Future Excellence, Equity & Resilience” last Tuesday.
CodeBlue previously reported on the independent committee’s report on the 2016 fire disaster that found four previous fire outbreaks had occurred in the south intensive care unit (ICU) of HSA, including one just 11 days before the fatal blaze on October 25, 2016, in the same ward.
Dr Abu Bakar said the Malaysian Society for Quality in Health (MSQH) “refused” to give HSA full accreditation because of its fire system.
The independent committee’s report was handed to then-MOH secretary-general Chen Chaw Min, under the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government, on June 6, 2018.
However, until today – six years after the deadly fire – the independent committee’s findings remain unpublished, though Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin pledged to release the report if there is no more ongoing litigation involving the 2016 incident.
Deputy Health Minister Dr Noor Azmi Ghazali told his predecessor Gopeng MP Dr Lee Boon Chye in the Dewan Rakyat’s Special Chambers on March 17 that the government will not table the report in Parliament due to sub judice concerns, pending a court appeal by three of the victims’ families against the dismissal of their negligence lawsuits.
The counsel acting for the families of three patients who died in the October 25, 2016 fire disaster at HSA — Logeswaran Krishnasamy, Choo Lin Fong, and Kaliama Muniandy — confirmed with CodeBlue that the plaintiffs have filed an appeal against the High Court decision last month that struck out their cases.
The High Court had dismissed the three lawsuits because they were filed beyond the three-year statute of limitations on lawsuits or prosecution of individuals executing public duties.
Dr Abu Bakar said there were efforts in 1999 to initiate studies to corporatise health services in Malaysia.
“I was asked by Tan Sri Shamsuddin Hitam, he was at the time DG EPU (Economic Planning Unit), he was in EPU, he went to KSP (Secretary General of the Ministry of Finance), he asked me to start the studies to corporatise the health services in Malaysia.
“I told him it will cost a lot of money (sic), but he said the government wanted us to initiate the studies. But it was delayed because of the election in 1999, so the minister refused to start it.
“But if we were to do the corporatisation of the government hospitals, we would have done it on a not-for-profit basis because of our experience with IJN (National Heart Institute) which was corporatised on a for-profit basis – I think with a lot of reservations on that part.
“It should be done… So, the health fund should be run on a not-for-profit basis. The corporatised entities running the hospitals should be run on a not-for-profit basis.
“So, the question then about HSA, if it was done in this way, then they will have to be licensed. That means the standards for fire safety, as well as standards for other safety, have to be achieved,” Dr Abu Bakar said. “That answer from me is not satisfactory, but that’s the most objective way of going forward,” he added.
Dr Abu Bakar was responding to a question from the audience on “fundamental issues” such as fire safety that continue to plague Malaysia’s health care system.
Dr Abu Bakar Suleiman is not currently chairman of IHH Healthcare Bhd; he retired as chairman in 2018. The article has been corrected.