KUCHING, Oct 5 — Improving workers’ quarters is among the primary issues the Ministry of Health (MOH) will address to incentivise doctors from the peninsula to serve in Sabah and Sarawak, Dr Kelvin Yii said.
Dr Yii, who is Bandar Kuching MP and special advisor to the health minister, acknowledged the insufficient and poor condition of workers’ quarters in East Malaysia, amid resistance from government doctors to relocate to East Malaysia.
“They go, but they don’t have a place to stay. So at least they can stay within their quarters. If they choose to move out, it’s their discretion, but we need to give them livable quarters.
“I’m sure, you know better than me, some of the quarters in rural areas, even animals won’t live there. So, these are things that we need to address,” said Dr Yii at the Sarawak Health Summit that was organised by the Sarawak CSO-SDG Alliance and supported by the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy last September 9.
More than 1,000 medical officers received placements in Sabah and Sarawak collectively during the MOH’s permanent appointment exercise last July 31 involving more than 4,000 doctors nationwide – at the expense of central states like Negeri Sembilan, Melaka, Selangor, and Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya that suffered net losses of more than 100 doctors each.
Dr Yii revealed that the appeal rate against the 2023 placements was as high as 30 per cent. The DAP lawmaker urged better understanding from Putrajaya, noting that the newly appointed permanent doctors struggled with concerns such as leaving their families behind and the disruption of their specialisation studies under the parallel pathway programme.
“We need to have better human resource planning, human resource-driven projection to the future. It is not easy because I can stand here and I said, myself [and] YB Deputy Lukanisman, we have always been fighting for more allocations to Sabah and Sarawak. Our Semenanjung friends are not very happy,” Dr Yii told the Sarawak Health Summit.
“I understand why because it does affect them, and we have to be empathetic. We need to feel them. But the reality is, the needs in Sabah and Sarawak are very urgent.”
Dr Yii stressed the need for incentives to attract government doctors into serving East Malaysia, describing the uptake rate for those coming to Sarawak as “worrying”.
“Many people are resigning, many people are leaving the service because of this. And I don’t blame them. I don’t curse them. I don’t [say], ‘Gila you tak nak datang Sabah, Sarawak.’ (Crazy, you don’t want to come to Sabah, Sarawak).
“Because some of their concerns are real. So we need to understand where they are coming from and how we address it. And that’s our challenge.”
The MOH merely approved 332 medical officer appeals, 20 per cent, out of the 1,843 total appeals in the mass relocation exercise.
In July, CodeBlue ran a series of stories detailing the impact of the massive relocation exercise on major public hospitals in Melaka and the Klang Valley — notably at HKL’s emergency department and Selayang Hospital’s obstetrics & gynaecology (O&G) department — where staff shortages could lead to potential resignations, longer wait times, suboptimal care, and possibly endangering patients’ lives.
CodeBlue also reported that some young doctors in their early 30s resorted to pawning gold and withdrawing from their Amanah Saham Bumiputera (ASB) accounts to fund their relocation from the Klang Valley to Sabah.
The contract medical, dental, and pharmacy officers taking up permanent positions this year were not eligible for transfer claims because their permanent appointments took effect on the same date for reporting for duty at their new placement.
Last week, CodeBlue reported complaints from Selayang Hospital medical officers about increasingly frequent verbal abuse from patients’ accompanying relatives at the understaffed emergency department, including one case that led to a staff member filing a police report against a patient’s accompanying family member earlier this month.
Dr Yii claimed that even though the MOH wants to provide doctors with higher pay and more allowances, it is the Ministry of Finance (MOF) and the Public Service Department (JPA) that make those decisions.
“We have proposed; I’ve met JPA many times. Sometimes I come from a meeting and I’m very angry, but we are trying. We need to keep trying, we need to keep pushing. We need to keep pursuing and addressing some of the systemic issues that we have. But addressing the welfare of the health care workers that are coming, that’s what the Ministry of Health is looking at.”
Apart from monetary incentives that the MOH is looking at, Dr Yii said that upward progression in terms of promotions is another area of concern that the ministry is looking to address.
“We are sitting with the human resource planning, starting this year for next year’s permanent transfers. And I told them – this is on my own personal consensus – we have to get this right because every year there will be transfers. So let’s learn from our mistakes. That’s something we want to properly address.”