Health clinics not spared from pandemic impact

GP clinics across the country are reporting a significant drop in patient numbers, primarily out of Covid-19 fears

by NUR HANANI AZMAN / pic by BERNAMA

MANY small clinics are scrambling to stay afloat during the pandemic, with an estimated 200 medical clinics expected to shutter by the end of the year from low patient count and high rental costs.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Prof Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said many clinics were hit hard when strict coronavirus restrictions were imposed earlier this year, putting many on the brink of collapse from falling revenue.

Dr Subramaniam said even after curbs were lifted in the ensuing months, patients continue to keep away from clinics for fear of infection.

“People are staying home more often and observing the standard operating procedures, and this has prevented other illnesses like the common cold and viral fevers from spreading.

“However, this too, has reduced patients visiting clinics. Most clinics are now seeing an average of just 30% to 40% of their normal patient flow,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

Dr Subramaniam said there are 7,000 Ministry of Health-trained general practitioners (GPs) nationwide, and many clinics operated by these GPs are located close to communities.

“With the closing of more clinics, we may see even more congestion at public healthcare facilities that will put further strain on the system,” he added.

GP clinics across the country are reporting a significant drop in patient numbers due to the pandemic, primarily out of Covid-19 fears and the general difficulties of transitioning to telehealth services.

Dr Subramaniam said fears of not going to clinics due to the coronavirus have also created an unhealthy trend of self-medicating, where individuals research their symptoms online and prescribe their own medicine.

“This is a worrying development as certain illnesses can be caused by underlying medical conditions that can only be confirmed by a qualified and trained medical practitioner,” he said.

Dr Subramaniam, in expressing hope for a better allocation in Budget 2021 for healthcare sector, said given the country’s inability to proceed with major tourism and sporting events due to the pandemic, some budgets from the relevant ministries should be repurposed to meet the needs in healthcare.

“MMA looks forward to an increase in the number of permanent posts with Employees Provident Fund as there is currently a shortage in positions for junior doctors, nurses and paramedic staff.

“For more sustainable public healthcare, the government should consider an increase in registration fees of between RM2-RM5 per patient visit at a government hospital,” he said.

For private healthcare, he said tax rebates of up to 50% for the year 2020 on taxable income for all GPs would be much welcomed.

To ease the financial strain faced by GP clinics, MMA appeals to the government to reduce tax rates by 1%-2% and provide subsidies for purchases of personal protective equipment, including face masks and gloves.