By Dr John Teo
Every day there is fantastic news coming out from the new Pakatan Harapan (PH) government and every day we are more hopeful that the nation is on the mend.
In the health sector, we still have an uphill task when it comes to taking care of the health of over 31 million Malaysians.
The spiralling cost of drugs and medication, the scarcity of hospital beds and resources, the glut in those doing their housemanship, the dwindling number of clinics by general practitioners (GPs), the shortage in specialists, declining standards due to the mass production of doctors, and the list goes on.
It was heartening to see the new Minister of Health, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad immediately tackling these issues as was evident from the numerous public statements he issued and his plan for a Health Advisory Council.
What seemed painfully obvious however, is that those very statements and plans had been repeatedly offered in the past yet the problems have persisted to this day.
It has always been said that you cannot continue to apply the same idea and expect a different outcome.
We need a radical overhaul rather than minor changes at the fringe.
Most of the solutions and proposals will likely come from those in the know, who are from the higher echelons of the Ministry of Health.
However, the real solutions would need to include as much feedback and consultation with all stakeholders such as both public and private sector doctors, and of course the ultimate beneficiaries of the system i.e. the public and patients themselves.
It is obvious that the houseman glut for example, was caused by too many universities churning out too many doctors, resulting in a lack of space for training, inadequate lecturers in some universities and a genuine concern for the “quality” of doctors graduating.
Why are we not consolidating universities and reducing numbers? That would increase the quality of training while decongesting the glut, ultimately resulting in better quality care.
GP practices are suffering as doctors’ fees are dismally low while operating costs have escalated. There are also stringent requirements and regulations from many regulating bodies that must be abided by.
Many GPs are barely able to survive and provide the much needed care for patients, and many have closed down over the years.
Their fees have not been revised in over a decade and many of their problems remain unsolved.
Why then are 1Malaysia Clinics that offer minimal functions still being enhanced rather than closed down or the resources of existing GP clinics used instead to enhance care and encourage public-private collaboration?
Many patients and the public in general receive less healthcare as governmental budgets spiral with the ever-increasing burden of non-communicable diseases.
Why do we not have the political will to decrease the cost of drugs and medical supplies by cutting out middlemen and implementing a national health financing scheme that makes every citizen take care of their own health by contributing to the scheme?
The RM1 outpatient treatment has to go as citizens take their healthcare for granted and may not be encouraged to lead a healthy lifestyle.
Obviously in such a scheme, there should be a safety net for the B40 and marginalised groups.
There is no better time to be inclusive as we embark on the political will to change for the better. Perhaps for a start, a town hall meeting with all stakeholders nationwide can be considered by the minister to gather real feedback from the ground.
As the saying goes, in order to prescribe correct treatment, we must first diagnose accurately by conducting a comprehensive examination besides listing down the history of the patient aka the stakeholders and public. To heal, we must have the political will to do what is needed.
We look forward to a healthier Malaysia from a government of hope, by the people, for the people.
Dr John Teo is an FMT reader.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.