KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 — Sarawak Premier Abang Johari Openg has proposed an innovative cost-sharing model between the state and federal government to fund a new cancer hospital for Sarawak.
Bernama reported Abang Johari as saying at the Sarawak Heart Centre’s 20th anniversary dinner yesterday that the state government could fund the cost of constructing the building at around RM800 million, while the federal government provides medical specialists and equipment.
He reportedly said that the cancer centre – which has been proposed for construction within the vicinity of the Sarawak Heart Centre in Kota Samarahan – could be built by year end if the federal government agrees with the state government’s proposal.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa indicated to CodeBlue yesterday that a new cancer hospital for Sarawak would not be allocated in the upcoming federal 2023 budget.
“I’m aware of the need for a cancer hospital in Sarawak. It has to be relooked again, though there [is] already [a] stretch of discussions done previously,” Dr Zaliha told CodeBlue.
“In view of the 2023 budget allocation, principally KKM (Ministry of Health) will focus more on the ongoing project(s), as well as improving and upgrading of the facilities,” she added, when asked if the Ministry of Health (MOH) would include an allocation for a Sarawak cancer hospital in Budget 2023.
Dr Zaliha told CodeBlue today, after she met with Abang Johari last night, that the Sarawak state government’s cost-sharing proposal would have to be further discussed with the federal government.
“Not only the concept, but as well as the detailing of that particular model also need to be defined. As far as Sarawak Cancer Hospital is concerned and needed, no commitment is given as yet.”
A cost-sharing model between federal and state governments for a Sarawak cancer hospital would be unprecedented and involve issues like whether the hospital would be owned by MOH or by the state government, whether fees for patients would differ than other MOH hospitals, and whether MOH would be willing to provide extra funding for human resources and equipment for that hospital, or divert existing resources from other MOH hospitals that are already understaffed.
Sarawakian cancer patients group, the Society for Cancer Advocacy and Awareness Kuching (SCAN), reiterated last Saturday its call to build a public specialist cancer hospital in Sarawak by 2026 to address bed shortages, inadequate chemotherapy facilities, reduced operating theatre capacity, and need for radiotherapy facilities upgrade.
SCAN president Chris Cheng pointed out that Sarawak only has one hospital equipped with complete cancer care – Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) – despite being the largest state in the country.
Dr Zaliha’s commitment to the focus of ongoing projects for Budget 2023 – which will be tabled on February 24 – reiterates her statement in Segamat, Johor, last Saturday.
The minister held then that the MOH is focused on completing hospitals already under construction and will focus on improving and upgrading facilities nationwide, including those in Sabah and Sarawak, but has no plans to build new public hospitals.
This morning, Dr Zaliha posted a Twitter thread describing her meeting with Abang Johari at the Sarawak state legislative assembly in Kuching last night, together with Deputy Health Minister Lukanisman Awang Sauni and Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah.
“The discussion was about health issues in the state of Sarawak. The discussion included issues of facilities throughout the state of Sarawak that require upgrading, as well as challenges in the placements of health service personnel in the state of Sarawak.
“The meeting also discussed the need for a Sarawak Cancer Centre and matters pertaining to health autonomy and how ‘strategic’ cooperation can be carried out between the federal government and the Sarawak state government in providing the best service,” wrote Dr Zaliha in her Twitter post.
In addition to the meeting with the Sarawak premier, Dr Zaliha and Lukanisman also attended a meeting yesterday with Bandar Kuching MP Dr Kelvin Yii, a government backbencher from the DAP, and Sarawak state health department director Dr Ooi Choo Huck in Kuching to discuss the state’s health care needs.
In remarks to CodeBlue, Dr Yii said the meeting was short and participants did not bring up the cancer hospital.
When asked whether he would be advocating for an allocation for a cancer hospital in the upcoming 2023 budget, Dr Yii said he has “always advocated for more – including for cancer care.”