Shortage of flu shots forcing hospitals to turn away patients as epidemic spreads

The health ministry says there are adequate Influenza A medications at public hospitals, while some private hospitals are waiting to replenish their stocks. (Bernama pic)

PETALING JAYA: Government hospitals and major private hospitals in the Klang Valley have been turning away those infected with Influenza A, the flu virus which has forced the closure of several schools in Selangor and Penang.

Checks by FMT revealed that most hospitals were not accepting patients despite being referred for admission after they were diagnosed, with many giving the excuse that they had “run out of beds”.

In Petaling Jaya, the Assunta Hospital and the Thomson Medical Centre said they had run out of beds, while the Damansara Specialist Centre said they were waiting for fresh stocks of anti-influenza drugs.

FMT has learnt that the Sungai Buloh Hospital is still accepting patients.

Private hospital group Ramsay Sime Darby Health Care said its Subang Jaya, Ara Damansara and ParkCity medical centres were seeing more cases than usual but were “treating each patient symptomatically”.

“We are keeping a close watch on these cases and advising our patients that if their symptoms do not subside and get severe instead, they should come back to the hospital to get a review,” it said in a statement to FMT.

There has been a spike in the number of Influenza A victims, with the education ministry instructing schools nationwide to be vigilant and adhere to the epidemic control measures.

‘Adequate flu shots at government hospitals’

When contacted, Deputy Health Minister Dr Lee Boon Chye told FMT there are adequate Influenza A medications at public hospitals, while some private hospitals are waiting to replenish their stocks after a sudden surge in flu cases.

Lee said the anti-viral shots are reserved for pregnant women, the elderly and children aged below five, as well as those suffering from conditions such as obesity, diabetes, kidney failure and cancer.

He advised others infected with the flu to rest at home.

“They need good rest. They will recover. If we admit everyone at public hospitals, others may be infected, too,” he told FMT.

He said supplies of medicines to private hospitals do not come under his ministry’s jurisdiction, adding that pharmaceutical companies source them from overseas.

Lee said government hospitals had always been stringent in giving anti-viral shots to stop any abuse of medicines.

Meanwhile, a source in the public health sector told FMT that the shortage was not surprising.

“The stocks of medicines in public and private hospitals in the country were limited, to begin with.

“There wasn’t much demand for the anti-viral shot before the outbreak in China,” he said, adding that the current outbreak was not anticipated.

“This year, there have been more incidents of flu cases compared with the same period last year.”

He said private hospitals are forced to turn away people seeking treatment because they are not equipped to handle such cases.