KUALA LUMPUR, June 1 – The Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) has maintained that Malaysia is facing a nursing shortage, forcing private hospitals to request market liberalisation to recruit foreign nurses.
APHM president Dr Kuljit Singh pointed out that Malaysian nurses are moving overseas because of salary scales abroad that are many fold higher than here.
“It’s a myth that there are a lot of nurses,” Dr Kuljit told CodeBlue.
“We don’t have enough local nurses as we prefer. It’s not because the locals cost more, but there are simply no local nurses. It’s not by taking foreign nurses that we deprive the locals of jobs.”
He stressed that recruiting foreign nurses was just a stop-gap measure for private hospitals, of about two to three years, until local nursing colleges can catch up with the demand.
“Our nurses are of high quality. They’re flocking to Singapore, New Zealand, and the Middle East,” Dr Kuljit said.
He cited news reports on efforts by Singapore and New Zealand to bring in foreign nurses to their markets. “See how the other countries are progressing, but we are more concerned about issues why private should have nurses from foreign countries?”
Singapore is ramping up recruitment of foreign nurses, with the government even offering them permanent residency (PR) status to retain “a pool of manpower that is of critical value to Singapore”.
New Zealand, similarly, is offering nurses and midwives immediate residency, with Immigration Minister Michael Wood reportedly saying last December, “we need to do more to encourage nurses to choose New Zealand”.
Dr Kuljit told Astro Awani’s Consider This last Tuesday that there is an “acute” shortage of nurses in both public and private hospitals.
“Patients now wait six to eight hours for a bed, as we (private hospitals) need to meet a certain nurses-patient ratio before more beds can be opened up.”
The Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act (PHFSA) 1998 — which only applies to private facilities — prohibits private hospitals from opening up beds unless there are sufficient nurses to staff these beds.
Johor Menteri Besar Onn Hafiz Ghazi said last Wednesday, after visiting Sultan Ismail Hospital in Johor Bahru, that a severe shortage of doctors and nurses at the public hospital forced the closure of two wards and eight operating theatres, besides leading to significantly prolonged waiting times for patients.
Dr Kuljit, who is also the medical director at Prince Court Medical Centre, told CodeBlue that foreign nurses coming to work in Malaysian private hospitals will be paid “about the same” as locals, only with “very minimal extra”.
“Generally, we prefer locals, but we have no choice,” he said.
Popular origin countries of foreign nurses for Malaysia are India and the Philippines, Dr Kuljit said, adding that private hospitals here, however, are open to whichever country of origin.
When asked why foreign nurses would prefer to work in Malaysia instead of other countries, if they will be paid about the same as locals in private hospitals, Dr Kuljit pointed to the working environment and culture in Malaysia.
“There are many nurses from overseas who prefer Malaysia over the other countries, even though the payment is much lesser. Reason is also that we provide a better and more conducive environment than other countries. We have other reasons which may not be just the money.”
Dr Kuljit told the 29th APHM International Healthcare Conference and Exhibition last Tuesday that an APHM survey conducted among 103 private hospitals nationwide in November 2022 showed the need for an additional 9,224 nurses from 2023 to 2025. This figure refers to mostly basic nurses.
“Private hospitals are interested in hiring nurses who have received their training abroad. We have discussed this with the MOH’s (Ministry of Health) Nursing Division and asked for exceptions to Clause 5 of their guidelines on hiring foreign nurses,” he said, according to a copy of his speech provided to CodeBlue.
“Currently, it is difficult to find employment for foreign nurses due to stringent post-basic training requirements and onerous immigration laws. In order to accommodate nurses, several nations in the region and the Middle East have deliberately loosened regulations.
“We can accommodate more patients once we have more foreign nurses, and we can help the government treat more public patients thanks to private partnerships.”
Dr Kuljit also urged the government to enhance PTPTN loans for nursing that APHM believes is a contributing factor to the decline in local students choosing to pursue nursing.
Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa was quoted – by both TV3 and the New Straits Times – as telling reporters at the APHM conference that the MOH was considering allowing the recruitment of foreign nurses to meet the need in private hospitals.
After backlash to a TV3 tweet of her remarks, the minister appeared to backtrack on her statement, saying later in a tweet that she pinned to her profile: “I wish to explain that we at the MOH are refining every need of health care workers, not considering recruiting foreign nurses.”
Dr Kuljit’s speech at the APHM conference did not mention the need for any other “health care worker”, only nurses.