KUALA LUMPUR, June 29 – Khairy Jamaluddin has claimed that he tried to push for an increase of government doctors’ on-call allowance back when he was health minister.
On his Keluar Sekejap podcast with Shahril Hamdan yesterday, Khairy highlighted widespread criticism of the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) statement last Monday that had defended the current rate of the on-call allowance for medical officers and specialists.
“Before I left the MOH, I had worked on many issues that I wanted to resolve,” said the former health minister, citing as an example the 4,000 plus permanent positions for contract health care professionals, including over 3,500 for medical officers, that he managed to secure for the year 2022.
“But I had also worked on a review of the on-call allowance, or the ETAP rate, for a raise because I know that even though ETAP is not salary – salaries still run – but this on-call allowance is an addition to salary.
“What I’m saying is that this issue must be reviewed. We have to relook at the rate of the on-call allowance, but what I see from the MOH’s statement is that it’s more about the present situation. Excuses.
“It’s about the present situation, not an effort to fight for our doctors, and our medical officers and specialists, to look at raising the rate of allowance.”
Khairy was health minister for slightly over a year from August 2021 until October 2022 when the 14th Parliament was dissolved.
The former Umno member – who was previously minister of science, technology and innovation and minister of youth and sports – was succeeded as health minister in Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s Cabinet after the 15th general election by Dr Zaliha Mustafa, a freshman MP from PKR who previously never held public office, either as a Member of Parliament or state assemblywoman.
The MOH regularly receives the second biggest allocation in the federal budget, after the Education Ministry. The MOH is also among the biggest employers in the public sector, with a workforce of nearly a quarter million people.
“The conclusion is, I don’t understand why this statement was issued. With this statement, firstly, there were a few wrong facts. Secondly, an irrelevant example was used. And thirdly, it angered medical officers,” Khairy said.
“What should have been stated was that the MOH would work together with the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Public Service Department (JPA) to ensure that in the near future, they would look at coordinating the on-call or ETAP allowance for doctors.”
A new government is not obligated to follow the policies of the previous administration.
Four doctors’ groups – the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia (IMAM), Hartal Doktor Kontrak (HDK), and Malaysian Medics International (MMI) – issued a joint statement last Tuesday to demand a retraction of the MOH’s Monday statement on on-call allowances that they denounced as “irresponsible” and “inaccurate”.
The groups disputed the MOH’s claim that the RM220 weekend active on-call allowance for medical officers is for 15 hours of work, pointing out that doctors performing active on-call duty on Saturdays or Sundays are required to work a 24-hour shift. Hence, the on-call allowance is equivalent to a mere RM9.16 per hour.
The doctors’ associations also took issue with the fictional Dr Ali character that the MOH used as an example UD52 specialist doctor, who earns more than RM17,000 a month, to justify the current rate of the on-call allowance.
MMA, IMAM, HDK, and MMI said such a high income could only be achieved from annual salary increments if the doctor remained at the same UD52 grade for 22 years, “an impossible scenario”.
Despite widespread anger in the public health service, three days on, Dr Zaliha has not retracted the MOH’s statement, nor announced if she will work on raising doctors’ on-call allowance, as demanded by the doctor groups who have now begun calling for salary reviews too.
Four months ago at a February town hall meeting with Dr Zaliha, government doctors called for a 178 per cent increase in the weekend on-call allowance for medical officers to RM25 per hour from the current hourly RM9 rate.