Contract doctors, hartal and Code Black – what it’s all about

PETALING JAYA: The problems faced by contract doctors have become a hot topic of discussion lately, both within the medical profession and public sphere.

A social media campaign, known as #HartalDoktorKontrak, has called for contract doctors to go on strike at the end of next month if the government fails to resolve the issue of their permanent placement.

FMT takes a look at the situation with a spokesman for the Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) Section for Housemen and Medical Officers (Schomos).

What is the hartal (strike) about?

The spokesman told FMT that the issue has been simmering since December 2016, when all medical graduates were appointed on a two-year contract.

He said one of the things contract doctors are pushing for is job security.

“Many of those under this system will see their contracts expire at the end of 2021. Their clock is ticking. The government has said there’ll be a one-year extension but to date, no one has any information on this,” he said.

Another issue, he said, is a flawed contract system with limited time for medical officers (MOs) to progress into specialisation. MOs posted in district hospitals face difficulty completing their training in just two years, compared with those in tertiary hospitals in the city.

There’s also the matter of unequal pay between contract and permanent doctors despite their similar job scopes.

“They don’t get the same benefits. For example, in terms of leave and allowances, those for contract and permanent MOs have still not been synchronised.”

Schomos has seen three different chairmen and MMA has had multiple engagements with the government in the last five years to resolve the matter, but to no avail.

What’s the difference between Code Black and the hartal?

Organisers of the hartal have proposed doctors go on strike on July 26 as a sign of protest against the contract system.

Meanwhile, Code Black is Schomos’ show of support and solidarity for junior doctors from July 1 to 12.

The two are not the same.

“It (Code Black) is totally different because the show of solidarity is being done while doctors still attend work and abide by the rules as government servants, and we are going to make sure that the well-being of every patient is still taken care of,” said the spokesman.

Over the 12-day period, individuals or companies are encouraged to change their logos or social media profile pictures to black or monochrome. On the final day, people are asked to go to work dressed in black.

What are the latest developments?

MMA and Schomos said although they do not condone a strike they have reassured contract doctors they are currently working with the authorities to resolve their issues.

This came after a meeting between MMA and finance minister Tengku Zafrul Aziz, who called the medical association for urgent discussions after it sent out a letter on June 23 to the government and all MPs on the plight of contract doctors.

The medical group had also attempted to reach out for a meeting with Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on Jan 18, but did not receive a reply. Another letter was sent to his office just recently.

Health minister Dr Adham Baba has said that permanent posts could only be offered to contract doctors based on vacancies, and that his ministry is looking for solutions. Any arbitrary additions to existing positions will be queried by government auditors, he added.

What can be done?

According to the spokesman, there are some suggestions in which the government can assist in the matter.

First, contract doctors could be given permanent posts under the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) system, which would allow the government to save money compared with the pension system.

Second, if permanent positions are filled, MOs may be given an extended contract to complete their masters or take a parallel pathway into specialisation. This would allow more doctors to go into specialisation, which would then create more training opportunities for future medical graduates.

The final suggestion is for the government to increase certain public hospital fees, while taking into consideration the B40 group.

“The fee for the emergency department has been RM1 for more than 30 years now. Even parking tickets have increased over the years. This can be something the government can look into, specifically for the M40 and T20 without having to burden the B40 group.”

What could happen if the contract system isn’t resolved soon?

Apart from the strike and less manpower within the healthcare system at the end of December, the spokesman said the country also faces brain drain.

“We are going to lose our national talents. There are going to be a lot of specialists and MOs who will leave the country because the grass is greener on the other side,” he said.

He added Malaysia may experience a potential flood of house officers and a lack of specialists, prompting the government to even bring in specialists from other countries. – FMT

by Faye Kwan

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