A tribute to our public hospitals


This is a story about one person’s experience in a public hospital. His father had undergone cancer treatment at Hospital Kuala Lumpur (HKL) and he was saddled with an enormous bill. But he didn’t have the money.

Last Wednesday, an emergency physician at HKL, Alzamani Mohammad Idrose, shared Razali Raihayu’s Facebook post, which then went viral.

Although Razali’s father succumbed to his illness, his treatment cost RM11,000. “We were so broke that month,” Razali said. He had only RM100 with him and nothing in the bank. The money was for transport and toll to and from Malacca and lunch for himself and some relatives.

He didn’t know what to do, but was reassured by an official at the hospital not to worry. Soon enough, the charges were reduced to RM31.80. His father’s Malaysian nationality was a crucial factor and a relieved Razali cried as he expressed his gratitude to the HKL staff.

Dr Alzamani says in his Facebook post many people are not aware that the hospital absorbs and subsidises the cost of many treatments. Treatments and services which cost several hundreds or thousands of ringgit are reduced, sometimes, to as low as RM1. Taxpayers pick up the tab.

This story, of course, is not just about the money. It is about the people who work in public hospitals and perform a stellar service, looking after a large number of patients, attending to their needs and coping as best as they can with limited resources.

Why do some of us speak ill of public hospitals? Many people who seek treatment in private hospitals claim that they will be getting the best treatment from the best doctors. The waiting time is shorter, the best equipment will be used, and there are more medical personnel to attend to their needs.

Some people think they get speedy treatment in a private hospital, but that is not always the case. I have accompanied relatives to a public hospital in Ipoh, where the scene was chaotic, but when I took a friend to be X-rayed in a private hospital, it was just as bad.

True, many doctors in public hospitals are young and inexperienced. Well, they have to start somewhere, but the problem is worsened by the poaching of experienced doctors by private hospitals.

You may read about some shocking failures in public hospitals, like surgical instruments left in the body cavity, long waits, and filthy wards and toilets. Well, such carelessness can also happen in private hospitals.

The guards in public hospitals are strict about visiting times, but there are good reasons for that. Patients need to rest and the hospital routine should not be disturbed.

But some people have a different set of priorities. Comfort is high on their list of concerns, and many prefer private hospitals because they resemble hotels, complete with room-service menus.

A doctor in a public hospital says that the government procures the latest medical equipment, but because of the volume of people being treated, the machines are subject to severe wear and tear. The staff are also overworked.

Razali Raihayu’s post is a fitting tribute to everyone who works in public hospitals. Many people fail to appreciate the dedication to duty of the medical staff in public hospitals.

The public hospitals and Klinik Desa form an important part of our community and are a lifeline for many Malaysians. Their staff deserve our respect.

Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.

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