'Not the best solution', Malaysia’s health director-general tells contract doctors planning strike
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s health director-general Noor Hisham Abdullah has urged healthcare workers who had planned on going on strike over the upcoming days to not do so as it is not the best solution to their problems.
This comes after 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.
“This matter needs to be considered carefully … (because) healthcare is a critical service, especially since it involves human lives and the well-being of the people.
“So I am of the opinion that strikes, especially (one that is) unplanned, may not be the best solution to any problem … relating to the medical profession or any other professions,” said Dr Noor Hisham in a statement on Wednesday (Mar 29).
He also called on those in the healthcare sector to “remain resilient” in order to face future health crises and also expressed his agreement that the demands of healthcare workers need to be addressed.
“The healthcare sector should remain resilient because the challenges ahead, including the risk of a crisis or a pandemic, may be greater and more complex than what we have experienced before.
“Thus, healthcare workers, who are the main assets of the public healthcare sector, must continue to be given the appropriate attention, including fair wages for their services,” he said.
Nonetheless, Dr Noor Hisham reiterated that a strike would not be the best solution to the issues faced by these workers.
“However, I would like to emphasise once again that a strike is not the best solution and that any problems that arise need to be handled together and in a more prudent manner,” he said.
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.
“I believe, the government will from time to time ensure that all these issues and demands are examined in accordance with the current issues and given appropriate solutions based on the economic capacity of the country,” he said.
8,000 CONTRACT MEDICAL OFFICERS ESTIMATED TO GO ON STRIKE
Dr Noor Hisham’s response came after an activist group called “Mogok Doktor Malaysia” - or “Malaysian Doctors on Strike” - posted a message on Instagram that called on medical doctors who are under contract in the country to go on emergency or medical leave from Apr 3 to Apr 5.
The group also told those who were looking to quit to do so on Apr 1 as part of a mass resignation.
A spokesman from the group told The Star: “Now we have confirmed that an estimated 8,000 contract medical officers (MO) out of some 20,000 contract MOs will participate in this mass job strike and mass resignation event.
“(Some) 3,000 contract MOs will resign on Apr 1, while the rest will not be present to work from Apr 3 to Apr 5.”
The spokesman also said that the group opted to go on strike by taking leave from work or resigning as the alternative choice of “demonstrations or walkouts will cause harm”.
According to an Instagram post by @mogokdoktormalaysia on Feb 21, among the demands of the group include absorbing all contract medical officers into permanent positions without imposing any condition or interview on them, increasing the basic salary and on-call rate of medical specialists and officers, as well as reducing the working hours for medical officers and graduate medical officers.
The group claimed that health workers are paid RM9.16 (US$2.08) per hour for a 24-hour weekend on-call shift.
Local media had previously reported a manpower shortage in Malaysia’s healthcare sector which caused an overflow of patients at hospitals and long waiting lines at emergency departments.
Last month, the New Straits Times reported Malaysian Medical Association president Muruga Raj Rajathurai as saying that among the issues that need to be addressed include overcrowding at the healthcare facilities, manpower shortages, as well as the issue of underpaid and overworked workers.
He also reportedly said that there were not enough permanent positions to provide doctors on contract with secure employment.
Malaysian Health Minister Zaliha Mustafa has since said that her ministry has taken several steps to remedy the situation, including expediting the appointment process of all medical graduates by omitting the interview process conducted by the Public Services Commission.
Other measures include increasing the graduate training slots at the health ministry as well as reappointing retired medical officers on a contractual basis, Dr Zaliha said on Feb 28.
She added that the health ministry is also encouraging Malaysian specialists working overseas to return home and serve the country.