Push to the limit: Contract doctors to continue with strike

No response from govt despite given 3 weeks to iron out issues including permanent appointments for 23,077 contract medical officers


A GROUP of contract doctors will stick to their plans to go on strike on Monday as their demands under the movement dubbed as #HartalDoktorKontrak were not met.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on the situation surrounding contract doctors at government hospitals, which led to a string of resignations with 24-hour notices in the past week.

With daily infections recording alarming new levels every day since last week, followed by the rising number of fatalities, contract doctors are being pushed to their limit with bleak future prospects due to their status.

Earlier this month, they gave the government three weeks to iron out issues pertaining to their status, including permanent appointments for 23,077 contract medical officers and clarity on the selection criteria for their employment.

Hartal Doktor Kontrak spokesperson Dr Mustapha Kamal told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that the government has yet to contact the group and provide solutions although Health Minister Dr Adham Baba said he would raise the matter at the Cabinet meeting last week.

“We only had the Public Service Commission replying to us, but other parties had not reached out to us,” he said yesterday.

He said about 8% of the contract doctors have either resigned or told the group of their desire to do so.

Resignation is a personal choice and it is not ideal to lose doctors during the pandemic, but Dr Mustapha said some of them have reached their breaking point.

“It is solely up to the doctors if they want to resign and we will help them with job security if they need help. Now, we will just focus on the hartal as planned.

“Losing doctors is obviously not great, especially during the pandemic, but I think some contract staffers have already reached their limits,” he said.

Dr Adham had previously said there were 35,216 contract doctors comprising 23,077 medical officers, 5,000 dental officers and 7,139 pharmacists

The contract system for medical staff including dentists and pharmacists was first introduced in 2016 by the Barisan Nasional administration to address the surplus of medical graduates in the country who have yet to receive placements in the medical sector.

Under the system, they were offered a five-year contract which includes three years of housemanship and two years of service as junior medical officers.

According to HartalDoktorKontrak Twitter account, several contract doctors have tendered their resignation with 24-hour notices, citing burnout and inability to secure permanent positions as reasons for their departure.

Malaysians have shown support for the Code Black and Black Monday campaigns for contract doctors by wearing black and switching their social media pictures to monochrome.

Hartal Doktor Kontrak said doctors and healthcare workers who publicly backed the campaigns have received various threats and have been investigated by law enforcement authorities.

Several medical associations and non-governmental organisations have called on the authorities to end harassment towards individuals who support the plight raised by contract doctors.

A senior government doctor who spoke on condition of anonymity said some contract doctors may have chosen to resign, but most of them continue to serve their duties albeit with waning confidence in their working conditions.

“Some have been pushed to their limit and made the decision to resign. Most aspire to progress in their careers. The current situation, however, does not give them the confidence to persist in the short or long term,” the specialist told TMR.

With 19 years of experience in the medical front, the doctor said the status of medical employment in the public sector has always been dynamic.

Fully trained specialists will eventually leave government service for various reasons, thus creating a wide gap between junior doctors and specialists in the medical field.

He said the current healthcare system does not have sufficient doctors as backups for fully trained specialists in the long term.

“In the past, the void has been filled by those occupying specialty training positions. The contract situation has put us in a conundrum where we have a hiatus in filling these positions in the future.

“This is based on our growing population requiring specialist medical care in the future,” he said, adding that senior doctors are also troubled by the employment situation for contract doctors.