Public healthcare system not yet reached its limit, experts say

by S BIRRUNTHA/ pic by TMR FILE

WHILE the healthcare sector is preparing for an influx of patients amid the Covid-19 crisis, medical experts said government hospitals have not been stretched to their limit.

Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy CEO Azrul Mohd Khalib said government hospitals in Malaysia are still operating as usual based on their known capacity and expansion measures in anticipation of rising coronavirus cases.

“This is thanks to the fact that 88% of the cases are coming in at Categories 1 and 2 of the disease, as well as the effective treatment which has kept the number of those needing intensive care and ventilator support low.

“The public healthcare system is still able to manage the caseload of Covid-19 patients without tapping into the resources of the private sector,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR).

Azrul added that if a sudden jump in cases happens, the government already has an agreement in place with the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) for private hospitals with large capacities to admit Covid-19 patients.

“Currently, they are already complementing the government’s efforts in screening for positive cases.

“However, there is a gap in this fallback measure as there is limited capacity in Sarawak, Sabah, Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, compared to the Klang Valley, Penang, Ipoh and Johor.”

Previously, APHM had stated that private hospitals are ready to help coordinate the management of Covid-19 patients, so as to not overburden the public healthcare sector.

The private healthcare system will also be assisting the government hospitals in terms of equipment and manpower, the association added.

Azrul reiterated that it is time for the healthcare sector to harness the strength of the private sector, especially general practitioners at clinics, to conduct widespread testing.

He suggested that nurses in the private sector be brought onboard to work side-by-side with their public sector counterparts.

“We need to loosen the red tape and shackles of bureaucracy to fully optimise the strength of our healthcare system, both public and private,” he said.

Pantai Hospital Kuala Lumpur respiratory physician Dr Helmy Haja Mydin also said the government hospitals still have the capacity to absorb Covid-19 cases.

More importantly, cases that require intensive care unit (ICU) treatment and ventilators are still at a manageable level.

“The numbers will keep increasing, but we have to ensure that the rate at which it is increasing is controlled. Hence, measures like social distancing and the Movement Control Order are needed.

“By flattening the curve, we will ensure that frontline healthcare workers are not overwhelmed by physical and mental exhaustion, nor will they succumb to Covid-19 itself,” Dr Helmy said.

At this moment, the best role that the private sector can play is to absorb cases that are not related to Covid-19.

“We must not forget that although we keep a tally of Covid-19 cases, other diseases such as heart attacks, asthma attacks, strokes, dengue and others have not suddenly stopped. These are patients who require hospital beds and specialist attention,” Dr Helmy noted.

By helping to take over these cases, the private sector can ease bed pressures in public hospitals and ensure that Covid-19 cases are treated in specific centres to prevent contagion, he said. According to the World Health

Organisation (WHO) estimates, the number of Covid-19 cases in Malaysia is expected to peak in mid-April.

The government is currently in the middle of accommodating essential supplies needs such as ICU beds and ventilators for the healthcare sector to handle the rising number of cases.

As per the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), the country presently has 135 government hospitals, nine special medical institutes, 926 ventilators in ICU facilities, 152 non-invasive ventilators, 142 transport ventilators and 210 private hospitals.

Malaysia also received an additional 48 ICU beds from Beijing, China, Transport Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong said last Friday.

“The ICU beds will be sent to the hospitals for emergency use and to treat serious Covid-19 patients,” he said in a Facebook post.

Previously, he also said a total of 94 ventilators from China arrived in Malaysia last week.

Since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic by the WHO in March, the Ministry of Health (MoH) has increased the country’s lab testing capacity for Covid-19 from 4,000 to 10,000 as of April 8.

MoH said it is working on achieving the full testing capacity of 11,500 per day.