KUALA LUMPUR, August 11 – Medical officers affected by unexpected placement shuffles in Dungun that saw them redirected to far away districts in Terengganu were called back to Dungun Hospital.
In a meeting last August 6 at Dungun Hospital, three officials from the Terengganu state health department (JKNT) met approximately 15 medical officers, offering them the choice of returning to Dungun Hospital or continuing with their “temporary” attachments in Besut, Hulu Terengganu, or Kemaman.
The two-hour meeting also provided an avenue for the government doctors to voice their concerns about the entire temporary attachment process. Travel-related issues, including expenses and house rental deposits, were key grievances aired by the medical officers.
“This meeting was really needed. At least 10 of us got to say how we feel. JKNT also had to explain why we were told about the temporary relocation at the very last minute.
“It was not perfect, but at least they know they made things hard for us,” said Dr Betty (not her real name), who participated in the meeting. No representative from Dungun Hospital was present.
To recap, CodeBlue reported last August 4 that over two dozen medical officers, initially reporting for duty at Dungun Hospital in Terengganu on July 31, were informed that their designated placements were actually at the yet-to-be-operational “new” Dungun Hospital – located about 3km away from the existing Dungun Hospital on Jalan Paka.
Upon arrival at the existing Dungun Hospital and brief interviews with a JKNT representative on the same day, 12 medical officers were chosen to remain at Dungun Hospital, while others were redirected to Besut, Hulu Terengganu, or Kemaman Hospitals – some 70 to 192 km away – for “temporary” attachments until the new Dungun Hospital begins operation.
The timeline given was six months. However, the Dungun Hospital “sick project” that is still under construction has experienced numerous setbacks over the past seven years, indicating that extensions cannot be ruled out.
The new Dungun Hospital is slated for an early opening next year, JKNT reportedly told medical officers at last Sunday’s meeting; however, the exact operational timeline remains uncertain.
According to Dr Betty, JKNT had denied requesting placements at the unopened new Dungun Hospital and pointed instead to the prerogative of the Ministry of Health (MOH) Putrajaya headquarters in determining the distribution of medical officers.
Dr Betty told CodeBlue that the federal MOH should give an official statement on the matter, not just JKNT, saying both parties were equally responsible for the relocations blunder.
Although granted the opportunity to voice their grievances, medical officers – who had to bear the burden of relocating twice – were precluded from making any claims for additional costs incurred.
“JKNT said we were not allowed to make claims because the MOH said so,” Dr Betty said.
Following the Sunday meeting, only about five medical officers opted to resume duties at Dungun Hospital, predominantly driven by housing rental deposit considerations. The majority opted to stay in their existing attachments, having already settled at their new locations.
Those who opted to rejoin Dungun Hospital were required to report for duty by Tuesday.
The Dungun Hospital placement fiasco was just one of multiple issues that angered government doctors in the MOH’s relocation exercise of more than 4,000 contract medical officers for permanent appointments last July 31.
For more than a month, medical groups and various doctors warned the MOH of severe disruptions to health care services in the Klang Valley and central peninsular states from which hundreds of trained medical officers relocated out of to Sabah and Sarawak, among other states.
Another key issue was medical officers’ ineligibility to claim for transfer expenses, due to the MOH linking permanent position offers to the relocation exercise; contract doctors, dentists, and pharmacists who opted not to choose placements for this year were cut out from consideration for future permanent appointments.
Dungun Hospital, JKNT, and Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa’s office did not respond to CodeBlue‘s previous requests for comment on the Dungun Hospital placement blunder.
Health director-general Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan’s statement last August 4 defending the overall mass relocation exercise also did not touch on Dungun Hospital, nor on the potential impact to services or officers’ ineligibility for transfer claims.