KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 27 – Contract allied health care professionals have criticised the Ministry of Health (MOH) for not addressing their working conditions and seemingly prioritising medical doctors instead.
Non-doctor staff from the public health service were particularly incensed with Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s town hall last Wednesday with government doctors that excluded other health care professionals and workers from allied health professions.
More than 200 comments, mostly critical, were posted on Dr Zaliha’s multiple Facebook posts on her doctors’ town hall, infographics, as well as on her ministry wrap-up of the debate on the motion of thanks on the royal address in Parliament that almost entirely focused on doctors.
Allied health care workers – such as medical laboratory technologists (JTMP), radiographers, environmental health officers (also known as health inspectors), assistant environmental health officers, health care assistants (PPK), assistant medical officers or medical assistants (PPP), and physiotherapists – told Dr Zaliha that they, like medical officers, also faced problems with understaffing, overwork, and the lack of permanent positions in the public health service.
The comments quoted below are translations from Bahasa Malaysia.
“Is this the Ministry of Health Malaysia or the Ministry of Doctors Malaysia?” wrote Facebook user EzZhard CRee, in response to the health minister’s February 24 Facebook post on handling the “duka lara” issue among contract doctors whose spouses work in different districts or states.
Another Facebook user, Rahim Isa, sarcastically commented: “Looks like it’s only doctors working in MOH. Thank you. I guess other positions are under the Environment Ministry.”
Facebook user Dean Burnz noted that support staff in the emergency department also work in shifts, saying: “There are even shifts for clerks. Create a shift allowance for administrative assistants (pembantu tadbir)”.
In response to Dr Zaliha’s press statement on her February 22 town hall with doctors across seniority, Facebook user Aryana Ardiana urged the government to provide permanent positions to all contract workers, including medical laboratory technologists, doctors, pharmacists, and radiographers, and to absorb them directly into service without requiring interviews, like nurses.
“We hope that the Minister will look at the importance and need for additional positions among support staff, such as diagnostic radiographers (JXRD), as the high workload and work pressures that they face are very serious in most MOH hospitals and public health clinics,” commented the Malaysian Society of Radiographers (MSR).
Facebook user Neo Shi Hao urged Dr Zaliha to protect the welfare of not just doctors, but “all MOH staff”, including pharmacists, nurses, medical laboratory technologists, and assistant medical officers who are also appointed on a contract basis. “We also face multiple issues that are rarely paid attention to.”
In response to Dr Zaliha’s “thank you” message last February 23 to doctors who attended her town hall meeting, Facebook user Hashibira Inosuke urged the minister to absorb assistant environmental health officers into permanent service, saying: “When Covid was over, they were simply discarded. Sad.”
Another Facebook user stressed that medical laboratory technologists (JTMP) are essential in helping doctors diagnose disease and determine treatment.
“Doctors aren’t ‘bomoh’ who can make predictions in the water to diagnose a disease. They need clinical test results to identify what patients are facing. Yet, despite the importance of these lab tests, the JTMP position is ignored. Those with contract positions aren’t many. Their basic salary also isn’t as high as doctors, but only 100 people were absorbed into permanent service. Their overall staff numbers of 1,370 are only a small percentage of doctors.”
Facebook user SharuNysha Barathy asked Dr Zaliha to hold a town hall session with MOH support staff, such as medical laboratory technologists, pharmacists, physiotherapists, and staff in medical imaging technology, describing them as the “true workhorse” of the MOH.
Facebook user Mohd Azwad Razali, however, said that the minister’s town hall with doctors was unnecessary, pointing out that similar issues have been expressed across the public health care workforce.
“Yet, we don’t see any immediate improvements for now. Like what I said previously, if they can’t afford to provide permanent appointments, reduce the workload. Stop creating new programmes every year. Upgrade systems; reduce paper usage. TPC all health care facilities,” he wrote.
Facebook user Zoul Hilmie pointed out that the problem with the lack of permanent positions was not limited to doctors, but to “nearly all” professions in MOH, telling Dr Zaliha to host similar town halls with other health care workers.
“Don’t just look at doctors. Doctors can simply organise hartal demonstrations. Don’t wait for other professions to hold hartal too; MOH will collapse.”
In response to Dr Zaliha’s infographic last February 24 on MOH’s commitment to protecting health care human resources, based on her town hall with doctors, Facebook user Anisa Rusli pointed out that most assistant medical officers (PPP), radiographers, and assistant environmental health officers under private sponsorship have had their contracts lapse for more than two weeks.
“Are their contracts not getting extended? These respective professions risked their lives during the Covid-19 war but ended up getting discarded just like that.”
Another, commenting on Anisa’s post, highlighted the shortage of radiographers in public health clinics (klinik kesihatan), where permanent staff are forced to work despite being on leave.
Facebook user Bunyamin Yusoff wrote: “Only doctors eh? What about support staff? They don’t need to be taken into account? This is really one-sided; it’s like they only care about the rice bowls of the professional group. They don’t care about the [other] staff in this caste system; they just talk sweet but it seems useless.”
Facebook user Shah Solehah commented: “What about other contract staff? Are they not as important as doctors? Do MOH staff only need doctors to provide service? Do we only need to pay attention to Hartal Doktor Kontrak?”.
Doctors, aided by groups like the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and Hartal Doktor Kontrak, are typically more organised in publicly highlighting issues and demands. Warnings of an impending strike subsequently led to the health minister’s town hall with medical practitioners in the public service.
In a statement after the town hall, MMA urged the government to follow up with the various issues raised, particularly with human resources and facilities or infrastructure in the public health care system, pointing out that participants had presented solutions at the closed-door meeting.