Deputy health minister decries state of access to specialists in public hospitals, says patients wait up to six months

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 10 — Chronic patients who cannot afford private healthcare have to wait up to six months to be treated since Malaysia is experiencing a massive shortage of specialist doctors, Dr Lee Boon Chye reportedly said.

According to the deputy health minister, there are only around 13,000 specialist doctors in Malaysia when 26,000 are needed.

He said this deficiency has caused them to fail the Ministry of Health (MOH) benchmark of needing to treat a patient within four weeks of admission.

“We are in dire need of specialist doctors for cancer, neurosurgery, pediatric care, senior care and kidney specialists. If we can fill these roles quickly, those with chronic diseases and the elderly need not wait for long periods to get treatment.

“Imagine having treatment within two weeks, but because we’re severely short of doctors they have to wait up to three or six months to be operated on.

“If they can’t afford private care then they may eventually perish if they do not get the treatment in time,” he told Utusan Malaysia.

The plight of Malaysia’s increasingly overwhelmed emergency departments was highlighted recently. Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa suggested that immediate action is needed to resolve the severe manpower and equipment shortages besetting most public hospitals.

There are growing warnings about the mental and physical fatigue suffered by both staff and patients, which healthcare activists have warned could cause the public healthcare system to collapse if it remained unaddressed.

CodeBlue, an online health news site, recently published its survey findings that exposed deep fault lines within the public healthcare system, with 95 per cent of respondents, mostly healthcare workers, saying they believe public hospitals are in a “crisis”.

The survey was titled “Dissatisfaction Among Health Care Professionals and Workers in Malaysia’s Health Service”.

Around 80 per cent of the respondents said they felt overworked and underpaid, while 74 per cent said they suffered from burnout. More than three-fifths of respondents also said they were sceptical of the prospect of career progression.

Lee said part of the problem was the wait for graduates as it would take five years to study to become a specialist doctor.

He however felt the issue that needs addressing is the imbalance between graduates and trainee doctors due to the increasing number of private medical education centres who he said were allowed to operate without any planning.

Lee said this imbalance has caused fresh graduates to have to wait up to a year to find placement.

“They’d have a better chance at becoming specialists if they can be placed as trainees soon after graduating compared to having to wait for a long time before finishing their two-year housemanship,” he added.

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