KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 24 – The federal government outsourced thousands of non-Covid patients to private hospitals at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, a move that cost at least RM128.8 million, according to the Health Ministry’s (MOH) 2021 Annual Report.
Spurred by a sharp increase in Covid-19 positive cases between April and August 2021 and a need to provide more beds for Covid patients, the MOH referred a total of 10,536 surgical cases and 7,248 non-surgical cases to private hospitals, as of November 2021.
The government has since announced a further allocation of RM190 million under Budget 2022 for the implementation of hospital and private laboratory outsourcing, as the ministry sought to address high backlog cases and long waiting times at public hospitals.
CodeBlue previously detailed how critically ill patients, including those on ventilator support, are stranded days in Raja Permaisuri Bainun Hospital’s (HPRB) emergency and trauma department (ED) for ward admission – two to three days on average and even up to six days – due to insufficient critical care beds and a shortage of doctors and nurses.
During the peak of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2021, the government also outsourced 10 ambulances from private company Maha Mas Medic Services Sdn Bhd to overcome a shortage of ambulance services, especially in Selangor and Kuala Lumpur.
The company provided ambulance services for 24 hours from August 16 to September 14, 2021, at RM195,000 per month. The outsourcing period was further extended for another two months from October to December 2021 due to increased utilisation of ambulances.
These ambulances were stationed at Covid-19 Assessment Centres (CAC) or health clinics during operational hours and then deployed to the nearest hospital.
The ministry said the arrangement enhanced the quality of health care delivered to patients and the approach was in line with the MOH Strategic Plan to reduce morbidity and mortality from Covid-19 infection.
The MOH, through its not-for-profit company, ProtectHealth Corporation Sdn Bhd, also spent RM393.39 million in fees for over 25 million Covid-19 vaccine doses administered at over 2,200 vaccination centres (PPVs) in 2021.
More than 4,100 private medical practitioners’ (PMPs) and health care non-government organisations (NGOs) participated in the National Covid-19 Immunisation Programme (PICK) at 2,269 PPVs, as of December 31, 2021.
Under the Covid-19 public-private partnership (PPP) arrangement, private and health care NGOs are paid a flat rate of RM19 per Covid vaccine dose administered by ProtectHealth.
The PPVs contributed more than 25.2 million doses of vaccines administered, including over five million doses by general practitioners and 2.9 million via private hospitals.
The government spent an additional RM42 million in fees for vaccination centres for industry (PPVIN), where 2.8 million Covid-19 vaccine doses were administered over the same period.