It does not come to us as a surprise to hear of a possible strike by public health care workers. The alarm bells on the health care system and its human resources being stretched to its limits have been ringing for years.
So far, we have only heard rumours of a possible strike and we have communicated these concerns to the health ministry during one of our recent meetings with them.
The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) does not condone any strike; however, it is understandable that the frustration and burnout among our public health care workers have reached its limits and they now want their voices heard.
The issues they are facing are not new, it has been around for years and with little or no change. In the last four years, there has been three changes in government. With every new cabinet line-up and administration, there was renewed hope, but none were able to resolve their issues.
There are still not enough permanent positions to give doctors on contract secure employment. Our public health care facilities are still overcrowded, there are still shortages in manpower, and most health care workers are overworked and underpaid.
These issues have been brought up in a number of meetings with the Ministry of Health (MOH), and various press statements have been issued by the MMA over the years, and even recently.
Although (a possible strike) remains as only speculation for now, the MOH, Ministry of Finance (MOF), and Public Services Department (JPA) should take the sentiments of the health care workers seriously and speed up the much-needed reforms to address the long-standing issues they are facing.
The health minister is committed to reforms in our health care system; however, the support of the MOF and JPA will be vital to ensuring that reforms can be carried out. MPs from both sides of the divide should also support efforts to reform the health care system.
The issues in our health care system should not be viewed as a problem for the MOH alone to address. Many of the issues, especially involving human resources, will require budgeting and planning by the MOF and the JPA.
The Prime Minister, who is also the finance minister, should step in if there are any roadblocks in implementing these reforms.
Issues in the health care system are a result of failed policies of the past. The Prime Minister now has the opportunity to right the wrongs of the past with reforms.
Examples include the commercialisation of medical education, which has led to the mushrooming of medical schools, and the contract doctor system, which was introduced in 2016.
We hope that the current Prime Minister, being a reformist himself, will right the wrongs of the past.
We would like to remind the Prime Minister that Malaysians have not forgotten all the promises made (on improving health care) during the campaigning period for the recent general election by his political coalition and MPs who are now in government.
The tabling of Budget 2023 is just around the corner, and the entire health care fraternity, as well as all Malaysians, will be hoping for a budget that truly reflects the government’s commitment to health care reforms.
MMA has asked for an increase in the health budget to 5 per cent of the nation’s GDP. This should be the minimum spend allocated for health.
Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai is the president of the Malaysian Medical Association.
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