KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim on Tuesday (Apr 4) said that the government is expected to absorb some 12,800 contract doctors into permanent positions over the next three years.
Speaking in parliament, Mr Anwar, who is also the finance minister, said that just this year alone, nearly 4,300 contract doctors will be offered permanent positions at a cost of about RM1.7 billion (US$385.8 million), Free Malaysia Today (FMT) reported.
“Although they are being absorbed into permanent posts, the health ministry will continue appointing contract doctors for the purpose of housemanship, which also has implications for the ministry’s emoluments every year,” Mr Anwar was quoted as saying by FMT.
He was responding to a question posed by Tuaran Member of Parliament Madius Tangau who had asked about the total number of contract doctors in the country that are absorbed into permanent positions and the financial implications of it on the government.
Mr Anwar on Tuesday pleaded with contract doctors for their understanding of the government’s ability to absorb them into permanent positions under the health ministry, Malay Mail reported.
“I hope they understand that there is no intention to look at this matter lightly as the contract doctors have been serving well and sacrificed their time and energy, and the country does need them,” he said, according to Malay Mail.
Just last week, a group of Malaysian contract doctors threatened to go on strike and carry out a mass resignation due to unhappiness over their working conditions and low salary.
The group – which calls itself “Mogok Doktor Malaysia” or “Malaysian Doctors on Strike” – had called on medical doctors who are under contract to go on emergency or medical leave from Apr 3 to Apr 5.
It also told those who were looking to quit to do so on Apr 1 as part of a mass resignation.
Local media has since reported that there has been minimal disruption at government hospitals on the purported strike, with many hospitals saying that it was “business as usual”.
The Star reported on Tuesday that the activist group’s spokesman claimed that the strike has successfully achieved its aim.
The spokesman, identified as Dr Jamal, told The Star that the strike appeared to have no impact as there were fewer people waiting at hospitals on Monday – the first purported day of the strike.
“Even though we might not get most contract doctors involved in it, we have brought the issues of contract doctors to the eyes of the public and brought it to the attention of politicians in power,” he was quoted as saying by The Star.
Last month, Malaysia’s health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah urged healthcare workers who had planned on going on strike to not do so, saying that a strike would not be the best solution to the issues faced by these workers.
Dr Noor Hisham pointed out that the government has previously acted on requests raised by health officials through the creation of permanent positions, sponsorship of specialised training or advanced training, and time-based promotions, among others.
The issue regarding contract doctors has gained traction in recent years. It was a system introduced in 2016 when medical school graduates were only offered contractual positions by the government.
According to local media, the system was only meant to be a temporary solution to the government’s inability to offer permanent positions. But the issue has since persisted and doctors on temporary contracts kept getting extended without being converted to permanent status.
It was also reported that doctors under contract have fewer benefits, fewer opportunities to specialise in specific medical tracks and experience a lack of job security.