The following article is submitted to the Editorial of Malaysia Gazette by reader, Susan Ooi.
The responsibility for the lack of progress in restoring the ICU unit of Sultanah Aminah Hospital (HSA) falls onto the Pakatan Harapan government.
Despite the two visits and calls to action by the Regent of Johor since the 2016 ICU fire – there has been little visible progress in restoring the hospital facilities to peak operating condition.
However, the sad truth is that the HSA incident is one of many tragedies that are being faced by our public healthcare system.
Prior to Mahathir’s privatization drive in the mid-1980s, our public healthcare system was among the best in the world–where rich and poor received the same commitment and access to healthcare facilities.
Mahathir hailed privatization as a victory in efficiency and cost reduction but, in reality, it only benefited government-linked political elites.
For example, his promotion of for-profit hospitals has created a brain drain that continues to erode the specialist core of our public healthcare system, conflicts of interest between the MoF and MoH because of GLCs in private hospitals, the privatization of 5 support services in 1997 created a new rent-seeker class and increased costs all around.
Despite these “improvements” Malaysia’s public health expenditure in relation to the country’s GDP remains around two percent in 2018. This falls short of Pakatan Harapan own promise of 4% in its manifesto.
In comparison, Singapore spends 4.9 percent of GDP on health, Australia 9.4 percent, Japan 10.2 percent and South Korea 7.2 percent.
According to Malaysia’s Health Ministry in 2017, Malaysia lacks doctors, as our ratio was only at 1.6:1,000.
In Johor itself, the doctor to population ratio is 1:1,199 while the hospital bed to population ratio stands at 1.44:1,000 – a far cry from the RMK-11 target of doctor to population ratio of 1:400 and a hospital bed to population ratio of 2.3: 1000
Although the World Health Organisation prescribes a doctor-population ratio of 1:1,000, many developed countries maintain higher ratio. France has a ratio of 3.227:1,000, Germany 4.125:1,000, United States 2.554:1,000 and Singapore 2.2:1,000.
Earlier this year, an audit report by the National Audit Department revealed that our hospitals, especially the emergency and trauma department (ETD) at Malaysian hospitals are understaffed, overcrowded, under-funded and do not have enough equipment to provide proper levels of care.
MoH Director-General Noor Hisham Abdullah echoed this statement on his Facebook page:
“We are currently under-funded, understaffed, underpaid, overworked, overstretched and with facilities overcrowded with patients. We all need… to improve the public healthcare system..; all of which are beyond the control of MOH.”
Budget 2020 offered some hope that we would see some change– there was RM 1.6 billion allocated to improving public infrastructure however recent headlines remain worrying.
On 18 Nov, the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) warned the government that our public healthcare system may face a burnout.
The reason? Increasing patient load and more disappointingly a government-mandated hiring freeze–where the Federal Government had rejected over 21,741 job positions for our public healthcare system.
Why does the government continue to play “doctor” with our public healthcare system–even under the “reform” government of Pakatan Harapan? Is this part of Mahathir’s efforts to “save” our country from the excesses of the Pakatan Harapan government?
We need to break from the old-status quo–we need to expand our public facilities and we need to do it fast.
Unfortunately, our new government seems insistent on keeping to past practices. After all, if two national cars didn’t work – time to try a flying car, eh?
All the while, our public healthcare system continues to suffer while certain private providers continue to walk away with another year of “supernormal” profits.
One day we may all face a kind of national economic bankruptcy. However, moral bankruptcy is already here and visible for those who care to take a good look.