After ‘Zero’ Housemen Exposé, UMMC Restates Gag Order

After CodeBlue’s story on a proposed “Zero HO Protocol” at UMMC’s Medicine Department, the teaching hospital’s management warned staff against making comments about UMMC on social media, including personal accounts, that could “tarnish” UMMC’s reputation.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 17 – Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) management has warned all staff not to comment on UMMC, after CodeBlue broke a story on a dire houseman shortage in the university hospital.

In an email sent yesterday by UMMC integrity department head Salawati Masdar to all UMMC heads of departments, units, and staff – sighted by CodeBlue – she stated that the teaching hospital’s management found that some staff members have “freely” made public statements that could potentially “embarrass” or “tarnish” the reputation of UMMC and other individuals.

“In relation to this, all staff are reminded that disseminating public statements through mass media and social media, including personal accounts, may result in violations under the Public Officers (Conduct and Discipline) Regulations 1993/P.U. (A) 395 and Regulation 3(2)(d), the Statutory Bodies (Discipline and Surcharge) Act 2000 (Act 605), which explicitly states that public officers should not behave in a manner that could discredit or tarnish the name of statutory bodies and public services,” the email stated.

Salawati included UMMC director Prof Dr Nazirah Hasnan, UMMC deputy director (clinical) Dr Mohmmad Salleh Yahya, UMMC deputy director (surgical) Assoc Prof Dr Azura Mansor, UMMC deputy director (professional) Chew Yee Yean, and UMMC deputy director (management) Khairul Anuar Yahya as carbon copy (CC) recipients of the email.

CodeBlue reported Monday about a “dire shortage” of house officers (HOs) and medical officers (MOs) within UMMC’s Department of Medicine (DOM). This led the department’s acting head to advocate for a “Zero HO Protocol”, urging staff to assume that the services of trainee doctors are no longer available.

The protocol, implemented in the largest department at UMMC, includes smaller units forgoing house officer services, prioritising house officers in high workload units such as respiratory medicine and infectious diseases, discontinuing “indiscriminate” test requests, and practising “mindfulness” in admitting patients.

In a letter dated January 2, the acting head of the DOM and several other doctors mentioned that the medicine department is in the process of reducing certain services. They are also collecting reported cases of “suboptimal care, near-misses, or morbidities” resulting from the “severe” manpower shortage.

CodeBlue’s story generated a massive response on both X and Facebook, particularly from doctors in the public health service. A few doctors claimed that Hospital Canselor Tuanku Muhriz UKM, known better as HUKM, was also losing housemen to resignations or would no longer receive trainee doctors.

“I thought this was in order to increase or maintain HO numbers at MOH hospitals, right? Because HUKM also won’t have any more HOs after this,” a UKM doctor posted on social media.

On X, consultant paediatrician Dr Musa Mohd Nordin quoted a former houseman at UMMC as saying that they were unsure what they learned from administering antibiotics. “UM asked for it! HO treated like lowest life in the food chain — learning and training bogged down by incessant IV antibiotics, drugs, ECG, dextrostix, chasing results, portering, instead of real clinical work.”

Hartal Doktor Kontrak posted on X: “It’s okay if MOs quit, many more HOs can replace them. Wait a minute, now there are no more HOs. So who’s going to replace them? ‘Many more people want to work’. Those who keep repeating this sentence, please step forward and provide a solution.”

Another doctor who graduated from UM posted a thread on X some observations about the housemanship programme, beyond the public university, tagging Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad’s X account.

One doctor posted on social media that HOs are important, saying: “Those who would be most affected are the MOs who have to do their work, manage specialists, and settle ward work. This is madness.”

“Our health care system can collapse if HOs no longer exist in the future,” another doctor said on social media.

CodeBlue reported yesterday that representatives from UMMC’s medicine department have suggested a parallel house officer (HO) system that would allow the university hospital to recruit and train its own housemen. This was suggested in response to the critical shortage of housemen outlined in the January 2 letter from the DOM’s acting head and other doctors.

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