Contract Doctors’ Future Now Questionable, Civil Service Permanent Appointments Halted From February

The future of contract doctors is now in question, as Cabinet has decided to suspend permanent appointments in the civil service from Feb 1, 2024 (all new appointments will be contract), pending a “new” recruitment method to curb the rising pensions cost.

KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 – New appointments of public servants will be made on a contract basis from February 1 as the government seeks to rein in its pensions bill.

This major policy shift by Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim’s administration to temporarily suspend permanent appointments in public service – after Cabinet made a decision six months ago to come up with a “new” method of civil service appointments – will likely have a significant impact on the public health service.

Berita Harian and Kosmo! reported yesterday a January 15 circular by Public Service director-general Wan Ahmad Dahlan Abdul Aziz that said appointments in the public service – which would be exclusively on contract in just a week’s time from February 1 – was an “interim” transition, until new appointment methods are implemented from legislative amendments.

“In line with the country’s commitment to tackle the rising pensions burden, the government – through a Cabinet meeting on July 12, 2023 – has decided to introduce a new method of civil servants’ permanent appointments to strengthen the public service retirement system in Malaysia.

“At the same time, this will flatten the country’s fiscal commitments in the long term. This new appointment method initiative is currently in a phase of amendments to relevant laws and improvements of the preparedness of the system in question,” Wan Ahmad said in his circular.

In line with this, Anwar’s Cabinet had agreed for all new appointments of civil servants to be made on a contract of service, effective this year from February 1, during this “interim” transition to the new method of appointments in the public service.

Wan Ahmad Dahlan said the contractual appointment system will follow existing regulations, service circulars, and current procedures, namely MyPPSM Ceraian UP.1.1.1 Procedures and Policies for Contractual Appointments (Contract of Service).

“In this context, the contract of service (COS) appointment referred to is the Object As (OS) 11000.”

In accordance with the announcement, the Public Service director-general reminded the Public Service Commission (SPA) as the appointing authority to comply with and implement this provision based on existing regulations, service circulars, and procedures currently in effect.

Latest Permanent Appointments of 1,197 Medical and Pharmacy Officers Possibly in Jeopardy

On Monday, the MOH announced the permanent appointments of 1,197 health workers, comprising 857 medical officers and 340 pharmacy officers, from the second phase of reserve candidates’ permanent appointments.

This followed SPA’s approval of the permanent appointments for medical officers on September 23, 2023, and for pharmacy officers on January 3, 2024.

However, while SPA’s approval for these permanent appointments was made prior to February 1, the MOH’s statement says that the date of effect of the permanent appointments is March 4.

Hence, it is unclear if the permanent appointments of the nearly 1,200 doctors and pharmacists will go through, due to JPA’s instruction for all appointments in the public service to be made on contract from February 1.

Placements of these officers in facilities will be informed by state health departments on February 12, according to MOH’s January 22 statement.

Potential Impact on Doctors’ Specialisation, Promotions, Salary Increments, HLP Scholarship

Contract doctors’ group Hartal Doktor Kontrak (HDK) – who posted a copy of the Public Service Department (JPA) circular on X – asked JPA, Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad, and the Ministry of Health (MOH) if the current 3+2+2 contract for medical officers (three years’ housemanship, two years’ compulsory service, and another two-year contract) would continue.

“If yes, what happens after the end of these seven years? What if officers want to continue specialisation?” HDK said.

Prime Minister Najib Razak’s administration introduced the contract system in the public health service for doctors, dentists, and pharmacists in December 2016.

While medical, dental, and pharmacy officers have been slowly absorbed into permanent positions over the years – albeit subject to selection criteria that doctors’ groups deem to be opaque – JPA’s latest circular indicates that these permanent appointments will now be suspended from February 1.

Even though the Cabinet decided six months ago to reform civil service appointments to cut the cost of pensions, the unity government did not make an announcement on new appointments of public servants on contract from February 1 – until the media broke the news yesterday on JPA’s January 15 circular.

Hence, it is not immediately clear how the MOH will amend its human resource policies – for doctors, in particular.

Besides HDK, doctors’ groups like the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the Academy of Medicine of Malaysia (AMM), and Malaysian Medics International (MMI) previously called for longer-term contracts of four to five years after two-year compulsory service to enable medical officers to complete specialist training.

This is because specialist training takes at least four years.

Besides the impact on doctors’ career pathways, the suspension of permanent appointments from February 1 could also potentially affect contract medical officers’ promotions, salary increments, and access to the Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) scholarship for specialisation training that remains extremely limited for contract doctors and dentists.

Potential Impact on Transfers of Medical, Dental, and Pharmacy Officers to Sabah and Sarawak

The end of permanent appointments beginning next month will likely have a major impact on the public health service itself – beyond individual doctors, dentists, and pharmacists.

On July 31 last year, the MOH tied a mass relocation exercise of more than 4,000 medical officers to offers of permanent positions. CodeBlue previously reported that Sabah and Sarawak were the main beneficiaries of this exercise – at the expense of the Klang Valley – that required doctors to transfer out of state in order to receive permanent appointments in the service.

If the MOH can no longer offer permanent appointments (at least for the time being), it is unclear how medical, dental, and pharmacy officers can be incentivised to relocate to Sabah or Sarawak, or other states.

In Parliament last April, Anwar promised permanent positions for 12,800 contract doctors within three years. It is unclear if this pledge has now been superseded by Cabinet’s July 2023 decision to put all new appointments in the service on contract from February 1.

More Doctors May Quit if Suspension of Permanent Appointments Not Accompanied by Salary Hikes

The interim cessation of permanent appointments – pending implementation of the government’s “new” method of civil service appointments – will likely worsen the haemorrhage of doctors from the public sector.

This is especially so if the government refuses to raise salaries and allowances for medical officers, who have been demanding an increase in their weekend on-call rate of RM9 per hour that has not changed for more than a decade since 2012.

According to MOH data, the number of contract doctors who quit public service rose by more than 1,000 per cent from 110 resignations in 2017 to 1,354 resignations in 2022. The 1,354 resignations in 2022, at the tail-end of the Covid-19 pandemic, exceeded resignations in the two previous pandemic years combined at 1,279.

Health Minister Dzulkefly Ahmad admitted to CodeBlue yesterday a declining intake of house officers (HO), saying that housemen placement priority is for MOH’s teaching hospitals (HLS), not university hospitals, as not all HLS received housemen.

This followed CodeBlue’s report on a “Zero HO Protocol” at the Department of Medicine at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) to operate under the assumption that the biggest department at the Klang Valley quaternary hospital no longer has HO services.

Finally, the Anwar administration’s plans to reform appointments in the civil service to curb the cost of pensions will likely require amendments to the Federal Constitution.

Although the unity government led by Pakatan Harapan (PH) and Barisan Nasional (BN) has two-thirds majority in the Dewan Rakyat, Members of Parliament may not necessarily support such a momentous policy shift.

You may also like