KUALA LUMPUR, April 6 – Kuala Langat MP Dr Ahmad Yunus Hairi has raised concerns about unfair hiring practices in the Ministry of Health (MOH) for permanent positions.
The Opposition lawmaker said the lack of transparency and consistency in the MOH’s selection process for permanent positions has caused confusion and frustration among health care workers, particularly contract doctors, with some being called for interviews despite having already resigned, and others being overlooked despite having passed all required exams.
“I have received complaints from health care workers, these doctors, and I have brought them up in my [parliamentary] debate. I questioned what the criteria were for selecting doctors, specifically contract doctors, for permanent positions, as the responses I have received so far are varied.
“There are doctors who have quit but are still called for interviews. There are doctors who are new, who are being called for interviews. There are also doctors who have not been called for interviews despite having served MOH for a long time.
“There are also doctors who have taken their Part I and Part II exams, but they failed the interview, while those who have no qualifications passed,” Dr Ahmad Yunus told CodeBlue in an interview in Parliament last March 28.
“That is why I raised the issue in the debate. The government needs to establish clear criteria as a guideline for appointments, whether it is for medical officers, specialist doctors, or those with JUSA and so on.”
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa has defended the selection process for permanent positions in the public health service, describing it as “objective, fair, and transparent”.
The health minister said decisions to appoint contract medical officers into permanent service are based on vacancies of permanent positions and the fulfilment of the criteria for the appointments as set by the Public Service Commission (SPA).
Dr Zaliha said evaluations for civil servant appointments are based on annual performance and include assessments of integrity, teamwork, and professionalism. She noted that officers who do not secure permanent appointments can still apply for such positions when new vacancies arise.
CodeBlue previously reported that among the solutions proposed by participants in the health minister’s town hall with government doctors on February 22 was for MOH to publish the selection criteria for permanent positions for house and medical officers, as well as the selection criteria for JUSA positions for specialist doctors.
MMA had also issued a points-based selection criteria for the appointment of doctors into permanent service. MMA’s proposed points table includes the following parameters: work performance, demonstrable intent on pursuing specialisation, participation in academia, commitment to continuing professional development (CPD), service in areas of need, and participation in non-governmental organisations.
According to Dr Zaliha, the MOH offers 1,500 new permanent positions annually, based on the Cabinet’s January 19, 2022 decision, following the completion of new facilities or the upgrades of existing ones.
“If this is seen as something positive, I believe it will be included in the Health White Paper as a criterion for promotion. Specific criteria must exist, otherwise, what guidelines do we have for appointments? It may result in disputes among our officers or staff,” said Dr Ahmad Yunus, who heads Perikatan Nasional’s (PN) health portfolio.
“Regardless of whether the officer is a doctor, paramedic, pharmacist, dentist, or support staff, there must be specific criteria.”
The Health White Paper is expected to be tabled in Parliament in June.
Government Doctors Deserve Fair Wages, Working Hours
In addition to having clear selection criteria for permanent positions, Dr Ahmad Yunus also called for a review of on-call allowance rates for doctors in the public service. He attributed the lack of adequate remuneration as a key factor driving doctors to leave the public health sector.
Government doctors at the same town hall meeting had suggested raising weekend on-call claims from RM9 per hour to RM25 per hour. The proposal was made after considering the on-call rate of about RM60 per hour in Singapore and the hourly wages earned by part-time workers in the services sector, such as retail sales assistants and baristas, who can earn up to RM10 per hour.
A February 27 letter from MOH, leaked by Hartal Doktor Kontrak, revealed that the Public Service Department (JPA) had, in August 2022, rejected MOH’s request to raise doctors’ on-call allowances by 50 per cent and suggested reviewing the on-call system instead.
“I’m not saying that RM25 per hour is an ideal amount, but we need to consider it. That’s why I said that the Health Services Commission (mooted by Perikatan Nasional) needs to determine the ideal amount for these doctors.
“If we look at it, the on-call allowance for medical officers and specialists is not much different – 15 hours for RM200 for medical officers and RM230 for specialists – meaning that there isn’t much difference when compared to outside rates which are very different.
“If they work as locums outside, doctors can get RM40, RM50, RM60, RM70 per hour. That’s why one of the reasons doctors leave the government is due to this allowance.
“That’s why I strongly agree that the allowance for these doctors needs to be revised, not just by looking at the amount given for 15 hours, but I think even for a few hours, it is significant to give them an allowance,” Dr Ahmad Yunus said.
Apart from an increase in on-call pay, Dr Ahmad Yunus also proposed that the government explore ways to enhance working conditions that do not entail additional expenses, such as implementing a well-defined system for handover duties.
“Sometimes, the issues that arise can be resolved without requiring financial resources. For example, on the issue of extended hours. If we have a good system in place, let’s say a doctor is on-call until 8am, and sometimes he or she may have to work beyond 8am, from 8 to 9 or even up to 10am.
“But if we have a good system in place, such as a well-organised handover duty system, we might be able to finish our work within the designated working hours. Through this system, it would be easy for doctors to hand over their duties. Hence, we may not require longer hours or additional time to complete our tasks,” said the PAS lawmaker, who is a medical doctor.
Dr Ahmad Yunus was responding to an MOH directive that limits the allowance paid to klinik kesihatan doctors to four hours, despite calls for government clinics to be open from 5pm to 9.30pm to help alleviate overcrowding at government hospitals.
“But I agree, in principle, that an allowance should be given to these health care workers for the service hours that have been provided,” Dr Ahmad Yunus added.
Bullying In MOH: ‘We Need To Stop It’
Dr Ahmad Yunus also called for an end to workplace bullying in MOH, which he said should be resolved in the short term. The Kuala Langat MP proposed the creation of a monitoring committee at all levels to report cases of bullying and emphasised the need for a clear understanding of what constitutes bullying.
“We need to stop it. There has to be a clear message on this matter,” Dr Ahmad Yunus said.
The Opposition lawmaker suggested the establishment of a monitoring committee involving housemen, medical officers, specialists, and the hospital management itself, to report cases of bullying. This way, doctors can feel empowered to speak up and report such cases without fear of repercussions, Dr Ahmad Yunus said.
He also cited former Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin’s effort to implement the MyHelp programme to address workplace bullying issues.
CodeBlue previously reported allegations of bullying and sexual harassment by house officers in Sungai Buloh Hospital’s obstetrics and gynaecology department. Housemen accused medical officers of bullying them daily, including sexual harassment, public humiliation, and excessive working hours.
In response, Sungai Buloh Hospital director Dr Jasmeet Singh Sucha Singh in a statement urged MOH staff to report workplace bullying through the ministry’s internal MyHelp channel.
The MyHelp complaints channel for workplace bullying among its staff, however, prohibits anonymous complaints, requiring complainants to provide their identity card or passport number, as highlighted by CodeBlue.
Dr Ahmad Yunus also noted that there needs to be a common understanding about what bullying really is. “Sometimes our seniors want to teach us as medical practitioners. If our self-esteem is low, we may feel that we are being bullied. But sometimes our seniors or specialists actually want to educate us to become competent doctors,” he said.