There is an undeniable sense of respect for the front-liners who have been bravely soldiering through the pandemic and risking their lives in order to protect the nation from the fatal effects of Covid-19.
Despite the almost unanimous solidarity with the front-liners, there have been disheartening stories of abuse towards these medical practitioners. At the beginning of the pandemic, they were even assaulted with rocks and bleach.
The insurmountable pressure can become too much for anyone, even for our bravest.
Now, it has been reported that 15,000 contract doctors are planning a nationwide strike on July 26 to protest against the government’s contract scheme for junior doctors.
Forming the bulk of Malaysia’s Covid-19 work force, these doctors plan to walk out of their respective facilities. Speaking to CodeBlue anonymously, one member of the independent strike states the protest will happen in each state.
The group’s data also showed that 60-70% of 23,077 contract medical practitioners have showed interest in joining the strike.
The group wants to emphasise that this strike is not in any way intended to hurt their patients. It is a needed demonstration of their frustrations and call for those who are responsible to take action.
They said, “We don’t want to cripple our health care system. We love our jobs, we genuinely love our patients. We don’t want to hurt anyone in this process, but we want those who are responsible to do something.”
With the cases rising everyday and shipping containers being used as temporary morgues for those who have succumbed to Covid-19, it’s not hard to see why frustrations are at an all-time high for our front-liners.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba, in a Covid-19 Immunisation Task Force press conference on June 21, said Covid-19 intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy stood at 92% as of June 20, with 1,096 patients (confirmed, suspected, and probable Covid-19 cases) filling 1,187 beds provided nationwide.
A total of 594 confirmed, suspected, and probable Covid-19 patients are on ventilator support, out of 1,291 ventilators available for coronavirus cases.
The government has taken measures to find out who is responsible for the committee but at the time of writing, they have not found any leads. According to a member of the group, they all “want it to stay that way.”
Naturally the boards of the Malaysian Medical Association’s (MMA) Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers, and Specialists (SCHOMOS) do not condone the strike but the organisers have scheduled talks with them nonetheless.
“If something substantial is on the table, then it (the strike) will not happen, but until anything is on paper and black and white and in effect, it is still on,” the spokesperson said, adding that the nature of the protest will be “something symbolic”.
This strike did not come out of thin air. Front-liners have been stuck in a plateau when it came to their career progression ever since the pandemic started. The group raised these concerns in an open letter that was sent to MOH and MMC.
According to Malaysiakini, the contract system for medical doctors was introduced in December 2016 as a plan to address the glut of medical graduates in Malaysia.
These graduates were offered a 5-year contract, starting with three years of housemanship and two years as junior medical officers, while medical graduates returning from overseas and who already completed their housemanship abroad are offered a 2-year contract as medical officers.
The government was able to bypass restrictions under the Public Service Department for permanent positions and hire more medical graduates with this system. However, the government did not build enough training hospitals or increase the number of permanent positions for medical and dental officers.
According to Health Ministry’s data, there were 23,077 contract medical officers recruited since 2016 and only 789 have become permanent staff. New doctors were no longer employed as permanent staff.
Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said the government has not stopped appointing contract doctors to permanent positions, but the number remains limited to fill vacancies left by retired doctors.
The contract doctors are feeling hopeless with their mounting student debt, lack of job security and hungry young families and all they want is progress. A study also proved that workplace bullying is prevalent amongst Malaysian junior doctors.
“We honour the constitution and it is not our intent to disrupt harmony in the country. But after three changes in government and three changes in health ministers, there has been no progress made on this issue. We need answers and we need results that are physical in nature,” the group said in the letter.
Despite their reasonable concerns, these doctors have been warned and threatened with disciplinary action if they were to engage in the strike.
The absorption for these contract workers into the public health care system has been pending for years. It was first introduced in 2016 to Barisan Nasional. Since then, the administrations that followed, Pakatan Harapan and Perikatan Nasional, have failed to introduce long-term measures to absolve this issue.
The growing demand for front-liners signals an urgent need for a strategic and sustainable employment policy for the medical graduates, yet there is still an insufficient number of doctors in the public health care department.
DAP secretary-general, Lim Guan Eng recently spoke out about this issue and stated that the absorption should be done immediately, regardless of race and religion. His statement was in response to a proposal for Putrajaya to ensure that new medical officers, especially from among the Bumiputeras, would be placed in permanent posts.
As of right now, MMA and SCHOMOS took to Facebook to announce Finance Minister Tengku Zafrul Abdul Aziz’s decision to expedite resolutions on the issues faced by contract doctors.
Even though MMA and SCHOMOS are opposed to the walkout, they are organising their own form of protest against the conditions inflicted towards contract doctors. #CodeBlackMY encourages doctors to go to work but in black clothing and holding placards in support of contract health workers.