KUALA LUMPUR, August 4 – Over two dozen medical officers reported for duty at Dungun Hospital in Terengganu last Monday – only to be told that their real placements were at a new hospital that hasn’t begun operations.
A source told CodeBlue that the group of newly arrived permanent doctors were informed that their designated facility was the “new” Dungun Hospital – which is currently a “sick project” still under construction – located about 3km away from the existing Dungun Hospital at Jalan Paka.
“When we arrived at the existing Dungun Hospital, there was a representative from the Terengganu State Health Department (JKNT) who interviewed each of us individually, asking which of the three hospitals – Besut, Hulu Terengganu, and Kemaman – we wanted to go to instead. There was no option to stay at Dungun Hospital.
“We were shocked because all of us thought we were supposed to be at Dungun Hospital. The reality was we were assigned to a ‘new’ hospital that was still closed, and there was another layer of selection to go through,” said Dr Betty (pseudonym), who requested anonymity due to a gag order on civil servants.
“After the interviews were over, we were each given the locations for our ‘temporary attachment’. The Dungun Hospital director told us to go to the temporary hospitals first. Once the new hospital opens, we will be called back.”
According to the Ministry of Health’s (MOH) Human Resource Division’s (BSM) list of 4,149 contract medical officers who selected placements for permanent positions this year, as sighted by CodeBlue, a total of 49 medical officers were assigned to Dungun Hospital.
However, Dr Betty said only about 30 medical officers reported for duty on July 31. This means that nearly 20 doctors assigned to Dungun Hospital did not show up, or a 39 per cent attrition rate.
Of the 30-odd medical officers who reported for duty, JKNT decided that 12 would stay at Dungun Hospital, while the rest were redirected to either Besut Hospital, Hulu Terengganu Hospital, or Kemaman Hospital – some 70 to 192 km away.
The temporary attachment is estimated to last six months, aligning with the anticipated opening of the new Dungun Hospital.
Construction of the new Dungun Hospital, which started in 2016, has encountered multiple delays due to contractor issues and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Originally slated to commence operations in 2019, the hospital’s opening has been postponed at least seven times. Astro Awani reported in May that the MOH had sought a new contractor to complete the remaining work, estimated to be worth between RM4 million and RM5 million.
The new Dungun Hospital, situated on a 6.13-hectare site, is valued at RM125 million. It will become the third specialist hospital in Terengganu after Sultanah Nur Zahirah Hospital in Kuala Terengganu and Kemaman Hospital.
With a capacity of 110 beds, the new Dungun Hospital will offer 10 specialised services, including emergency care, general medicine, paediatrics, obstetrics and gynaecology, anesthesiology, orthopaedics, psychiatry, dentistry, and pathology.
Last month, RTM reported that Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa expects the Dungun Hospital project to be completed in December.
“All of us made preparations to settle in Dungun – some rented rooms, others rented houses. After all that trouble, we were told to report to work at a completely different facility the very next day,” Dr Betty said.
Dr Betty claimed that several medical officers involved in the temporary attachment chose not to report for duty, and one even resigned. Among those who followed through, including Dr Betty herself, many now face the daily commute from Dungun to Besut (192km), Hulu Terengganu (79km), or Kemaman (69km), while searching for a place closer to their new work station.
Dr Betty said she has personally spent over RM1,000 for her placement in Terengganu, which includes expenses for petrol and a rental deposit for a room in Dungun.
“I don’t understand why they opened so many slots (in the eHousemen system) for Dungun Hospital when the hospital is not even operational yet. Now we have to relocate, yet again, because we are not needed there. It’s a logistical mess,” Dr Betty said.
CodeBlue reached out to JKNT director Dr Kasemani Embong and Dungun Hospital director Dr Farah Najwa Abdul Rahim for an explanation for posting medical officers to an unopened hospital, without prior notice before their duty on July 31.
CodeBlue also sought comments from Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s office on the opening date of the new Dungun Hospital, but received no response from either party.
According to BSM’s placement list, of the 49 medical officers assigned to Dungun Hospital, more than half (26) previously served facilities in other states outside Terengganu, namely Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Kelantan, Kedah, Perlis, Johor, and Sarawak.
The over 4,000 doctors involved in the nationwide relocation exercise were not eligible to claim for transfer expenses, as the MOH put the permanent appointments of the contract medical officers into effect on the same date that they were instructed to report for duty at their new placement.
Hence, it’s as if these are “new” hires joining the public service, even though the doctors have been working in the MOH (under contract) for at least four years.
In the Terengganu case, it is unclear why the MOH posted medical officers to a hospital that may only begin operations half a year away, instead of transferring them only after the new Dungun Hospital is ready for opening while maintaining their July 31 permanent appointment date.