As our contract doctors hit the peak of their frustrations over a lack of career advancement opportunities, to the point of threatening to strike on July 26, the act of launching police investigations on their spokespersons and supporters has exacerbated tensions.
A dentist, whom identified himself as Dr Han, is investigated by police over his video on YouTube titled “Malaysian doctors on strike/mogok?”. The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) had also revealed that many of its doctors who supported the Code Black and Black Monday campaign are being investigated by the police.
Firstly, what happened to our rights to freedom of expression as enshrined in the Constitution? Surely groups are allowed to champion their own interests and rights publicly? How could a show of solidarity and expression of grievances amount to a threat to public harmony?
As frontliners themselves, we expect the police to show a higher degree of empathy to medical frontliners. Without a doubt, both our medical and enforcement frontliners have worked tirelessly, and risked their health to mitigate the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. We should be motivating one another, rather than elevating tension levels.
There is also a bigger issue at hand which will impact all of us in decades to come. The risk of the doctors striking – whether it happens or not – will pale in comparison to Malaysia running into a shortage of medical specialists in years to come.
This is because, among other things, contract doctors in public healthcare are not eligible for specialist training, which permanent medical officers have access to. Even the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia are concerned, as a majority of specialists serving in private hospitals were trained via the public training system.
In short, the current practice is discriminatory in nature. Further, it may have the unfortunate consequence of causing brain drain in our medical professions.
Finally, if we focus on the crux of the grouses by contract doctors, it is not unreasonable at all. They are not asking for all contract doctors to be all absorbed into permanent roles. They know that is not possible, as it would bloat the civil service and damage the country’s finances.
They are asking for equal treatment and transparency in the selection of permanent medical officers. We fully support this call; the Health Ministry must make public the evaluation criteria for all contract doctors.
With a clear overview of their career options, contract doctors can make informed decisions on their future – to remain as general practitioners, to seek private scholarships locally or abroad, or perhaps to stop practising medicine altogether. It is a big life decision, and transparency will guide them to choose what’s best.