Health Minister Admits Staff Shortages Amid Spike In Patient Visits

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa admits there are staff shortages in MOH health care facilities due to a sudden spike in patient visits. MOH has initiated various short- to long-term measures, including filling 4,263 permanent positions for MOs by July.

KUALA LUMPUR, June 30 – Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa has acknowledged health worker shortages in public health care facilities, a rare open admission by the Ministry of Health (MOH).  

As of last March 31, the MOH has employed 303,462 permanent and contract officers across various service schemes, including 47,281 medical officers, 6,912 specialist doctors, and 69,289 nurses.

“Despite that, this number is said to still not be sufficient, following a recent spike in patient visits to MOH health care facilities,” Dr Zaliha said in a written response to the Senate last June 22. 

“This sudden rise means there is a need to increase the present number of health care workers in health care facilities to ensure the smooth and effective delivery of health services, and to avoid long wait times for treatment.” 

Dr Zaliha was responding to a question posed by Senator Dominic Lau Hoe Chai. Lau, who is also Gerakan president, asked the minister to state what mechanisms are used by the MOH to ensure that public health clinics and hospitals have an adequate health workforce. 

The health minister told the senator that the MOH has initiated a variety of measures that vary from the short to long term. 

According to Dr Zaliha, the MOH has received approval for the creation of 1,500 new positions for medical, dental and pharmacy officers annually from 2023 to 2025, in line with the previous government’s decision in January 2022.

Dr Zaliha also reminded the senator of Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s announcement of the creation of 12,800 permanent positions for contract doctors over a three-year span, ending in 2025, that is expected to cost the government RM1.7 billion.

Subsequent to the creation of new positions over a three-year period, the health minister also said that 4,263 permanent positions for medical officers would be filled by next month.

Dr Zaliha previously said in a press statement last June 23 that the relocation of the 4,200 plus contract doctors who received permanent appointments was expected to cause a temporary staff shortage in certain MOH facilities. 

The minister told the Senate that the MOH would also apply to the central agency for positions across service schemes in phases for current and new or upgraded facilities from this year until 2025.

The MOH has also requested for permanent positions for 2,336 contract nurses appointed from private who were recruited since the Covid-19 pandemic. For the first phase, 620 nurses were appointed to permanent positions, with the remainder to receive their appointments in phases until December this year.

The contracts of 3,498 allied science members and paramedics in seven service schemes who have served the MOH since the pandemic have also been extended. 

Dr Zaliha said housemanship slots at the MOH have increased by 1,393 slots, or 13 per cent, across nearly a decade from 10,835 in 2013 to 12,228 in 2022. 

The health minister also said simply that the MOH “encourages” more medical officers to continue their studies in the Master’s programme and Parallel Pathway programme under the MOH. 

Additionally, the MOH is also procuring sessional external specialist services.

Dr Zaliha also highlighted the Health White Paper (HWP) that was passed by Parliament recently, specifically the fourth pillar of the HWP on fortifying the health workforce. 

The minister reiterated the general strategies and statements in the document that is meant to propose long-term health reforms over a period of 15 years.

The first strategy proposed in the HWP is developing a national framework for professional education which will improve entry requirements, in-service training, enable students to obtain practical training, strengthen the capacity of trainers and training institutions and help address regional imbalances in health workforce numbers and skill mix. 

The paper also proposes to conduct reviews and forecasts of the public sector health workforce to meet current and future needs, besides suggesting additional investments into health workforce training and development. 

“The Ministry of Health is also looking at solutions for medical officer issues comprehensively, comprising controls on the recruitment of medical students, temporary registration conditions with the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC), reforms and the liberalisation of housemanship and compulsory service, and the diversification of implementing specialist training with the involvement of other interested parties,” Dr Zaliha said. 

Dr Zaliha held that as the proposed reforms involve reviewing the Medical Act 1971 and other Acts and regulations, the MOH, through the Malaysian Medical Council Secretariat, will bring the proposed recommendations to be considered by members of the MMC. 

“The implementation plan of this solution will be presented to the High-Level Committee in July 2023 to be reviewed and finalised.” 

While the health minister has the ministerial authority to amend regulations under the MOH, amendments to primary legislation, including the Medical Act, require parliamentary approval. 

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