MMA Schomos: The Ethical And Moral Duty To Strike

“Doctors have an ethical duty towards their patients. But it will not be long before this duty towards their patients becomes an ethical and moral duty to strike” – MMA Schomos, pointing out nothing much has changed after contract doctors’ 2021 protest.

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 – The Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) Schomos, which represents housemen, medical officers, and specialists, warned the government that little has changed, despite a protest by contract doctors in 2021.

MMA Schomos (Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers, and Specialists) said the circumstances back then at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic – which saw an initially planned strike scaled down to a protest that brought health care issues to the forefront – would have been premature for a full-blown walkout.

“Since then, we have had multiple negotiations with the government, raised public awareness of the pressing issues, and voted in Members of Parliament who had promised change as the opposition party in 2021,” MMA Schomos posted on Facebook yesterday. “Yet, nothing much has changed.”

“Doctors have an ethical duty towards their patients. But it will not be long before this duty towards their patients becomes an ethical and moral duty to strike.”

MMA Schomos noted that after contract doctors’ brief walkout in mid-2021, the government harmonised the pay grades of contract medical officers from UD41 to UD43, created 7,849 new permanent posts for medical officers over the past two years, and expanded eligibility for TB/ leprosy/ cancer leave and the benefit of travel fare for visiting home.

“While these achievements of the government of Malaysia are commendable, it is painfully obvious that they are grossly insufficient to keep our health care system afloat,” MMA Schomos pointed out.

“Our health care facilities are in crisis mode across the country. More and more frequently, we are seeing long patient queues, emergency department shutdowns, and stories of resignations by both permanent and contract doctors alike.

“Work strikes are usually the last resort employed by workers when all other efforts have fallen through.”

MMA Schomos attached a commentary titled “The Ethics of a Work Strike” by Dr Leonard Goh Zhong Ning et al, published January 2022 in the Medical Journal of Malaysia, that supporters of industrial action by the public health service believe that a strike would force authorities to focus on urgent rehabilitation of the health care system. 

“The ethics of a strike therefore seem to boil down to a cost-benefit analysis – will the benefits outweigh the immediate dire repercussions of a strike during this pandemic? If the evaluation is limited to the short-term, a strike would be unethical. Yet from the long-term perspective, if the strike provides an impetus for extensive reform in our health care system, then it may be viewed to be ethical,” authors wrote.

Dr Goh, in a response to Health director-general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah who told health care workers not to compromise patient safety by going on strike, wrote for CodeBlue yesterday that patients’ wellbeing and care are “already compromised” as is.

“Patients die en route to receiving the medical care they need, just because ‘en route’ means a half-day drive to the nearest centre with the appropriate service and equipment.

Doesn’t this sound like our patients’ wellbeing is already compromised?” Dr Goh said.

“Instead of asking our doctors to be mature and stand down, perhaps the health minister and Health director-general (being medical doctors themselves) can do better by shadowing a medical officer for the entire duration of one call to experience the true extent of the issues.”

Most Malaysians commenting on Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s recent video, in which she urged staff in the public health service not to go on strike, appeared to be sympathetic towards health care workers.

The health minister announced last night that she would hold a town hall with government doctors – co-organised with MMA as secretariat – next Wednesday.

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