KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 6 – The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) yesterday declared that it will request Human Resources Minister V. Sivakumar to regulate the working hours of “exploited” and overworked trainee doctors in the public sector.
The public move by the largest doctors’ association in Malaysia to seek the Human Resources Ministry’s intervention over human resource issues in another ministry – the Health Ministry – is rare, and comes at a time when multiple government doctors are openly expressing deep frustrations about the public health care system, including issues of overwork and a toxic work environment.
It also shows that doctors in the public sector are no longer confident in the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) ability to resolve long-standing complaints of overwork and bullying in its own health care facilities, despite Khairy Jamaluddin’s previous attempts to address these problems during his short stint as health minister.
“I’m writing to the human resources minister about this. I want the JPA (Public Service Department) to sit together with the human resources minister and sort this out because housemen are working and they’re exploited,” MMA president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai told Astro Awani’s Consider This host Melisa Idris last night.
“HR is looking into every other sector and says you can only work so many hours. If you work this, you have to get your OT, you work Sundays, you have to get your extras and all that. But here for housemen, there is an allowance of RM600 a month, and that is because your timing is 7 to 5 or whatever, but a lot of hours are unaccounted [for].
“Some people tell me that they got six to seven hours a day which is not accounted for.”
The human resources minister in the Anwar Ibrahim administration is V. Sivakumar from the DAP, whereas the health minister is Dr Zaliha Mustafa from PKR.
The Employment Act 1955 regulates employment in the private sector. Employment of civil servants is governed separately by the Public Service Commission.
Dr Muruga pointed out that the medical service in Ireland, on the other hand, pays staff extra for work performed at night or on the weekends.
He said that although house officers in Malaysia may have, for example, 7am to 5pm as their official working hours, some consultants would ask them to clock in earlier at 5am and only allow them to clock out at say, between 8pm and 10pm.
“Of course housemen can’t take the stress.”
The MMA president also related that when he was a medical officer and he was walking with a consultant and housemen into the intensive care unit (ICU), he held the door open for the consultant but the consultant held the door instead.
“I said, ‘never mind, I hold’. He said, ‘no, no, no. In UK, we treat everybody as colleagues’. I think that must change here. We have to look at everyone as a colleague. We cannot look at them as junior doctors, housemen, seniors. No. That has to change.”
Dr Muruga called for an end to the “culture of bullying” in public hospitals.
“The frustration starts from the housemen. When you go in as a houseman, there’s a lot of bullying. You can’t sweep that under the carpet.”
He also complained that the selection criteria for permanent posts and promotions in the public service remain opaque, noting that only 40 per cent of contract doctors who went for interviews last year received permanent positions.
“These things must change. When you become a specialist, it doesn’t stop. Recently, we got so many complaints from specialists writing to us saying that they’re stressed out by their senior specialists and consultants.
“So it’s becoming a very toxic environment for doctors to work in the hospitals.”
MMA plans to embark on a roadshow to stop the bullying culture in government hospitals.
“MMA is going on a roadshow to do this programme called ‘Train the Trainers’ so that we can make the specialists understand that the junior doctors can’t take the stress, and they need a better environment. It’s in the pipeline right now,” Dr Muruga said.
He added that during MMA’s recent meeting with Dr Zaliha last December 28, the health minister promised MMA to provide more contracts and permanent positions for doctors.
“She said she’s trying her best to give more this year. I can see she’s got the will to help us with reforms we want.”