Seeking a cure for our healthcare system

The nation cannot afford to lose its much-needed medical specialists, given the long queue of patients waiting for crucial surgeries and treatment

A ward at the Penang General Hospital

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It was bound to happen at a time when the authorities are still busy debating over what to do with the issue of cardiothoracic surgeons shortage in our healthcare system.

Amid the brouhaha, two hospitals in London – the Royal Brompton Hospital and the Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital – reportedly came to the fore to offer jobs to two local cardiothoracic surgery graduates who are involved in a lawsuit over the parallel pathway issue.

The issue revolves around a “parallel pathway” for cardiothoracic surgery specialist training that is run by the Ministry of Health, with the collaboration of a foreign royal college. Unfortunately, this pathway is not recognised by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC).

On the other hand, the Mara Technological University (UiTM) and the National Heart Institute run a joint programme to produce cardiothoracic surgeons – the only course of its kind in the country.

The snag is that UiTM and its ardent supporters are opposed to the idea of the university opening its doors to ethnic minority specialists, even on a temporary basis, while waiting for the University of Malaya, a relatively more inclusive institution, to set up a similar programme in the near future.

Faced with this problem, four graduates from the cardiothoracic surgery programme with the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh and six Universiti Sains Malaysia graduates reportedly sued the MMC for refusing to register them on the national specialists register.

Both the two graduates who have been offered the jobs are, if their ethnic identities are of any political significance, Malays. This suggests that those who are internationally recognised are likely to be snapped up by institutions who value their professional expertise, irrespective of their ethnic and cultural backgrounds.

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Apparently, attempts have been made to persuade the two individuals to stay put in Malaysia, but their job frustration might lead them to eventually accept the attractive offers. 

It is understandable that these trained surgeons are concerned about their respective career pathways. Their future is at stake. 

The fear is that others might follow suit, hence resulting in a loss for Malaysia and a gain for foreign countries. 

This sounds familiar, given the brain drain that has been happening over the years and one that has reached the rate of 5.5% of our population, which is much higher than the global average of 3.3%.

To stem the tide of the brain drain, applications from Malaysian medical specialists working abroad to return home to serve their fellow country people should be considered positively by the relevant authorities.

A brain drain among the local medical fraternity is the last thing we want to endure, especially when our ageing population has been increasing over the years. These are people who obviously need more medical care.

The medical graduates are also likely to be courted and absorbed by the private hospitals in the country, thereby tipping the balance of medical specialists in even more in favour of the private sector. 

The nation cannot afford to lose its much-needed medical specialists, given the long queue of patients waiting for crucial surgeries and treatment.

In 2022, the Ministry of Health projected that by 2030, cardiothoracic diseases would increase by 10% – which means two million more Malaysians above the age of 65 will require medical treatment.

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The national specialists register recorded that only 88 doctors have indicated that cardiothoracic surgery is their first or second speciality. That is a measly sum. 

This is apart from other pressing issues, such as contract doctors. 

Hopefully, the parallel pathway specialists-MMC complication will be resolved when amendments to the Medical Act are tabled at the House of Representatives proceedings scheduled from 24 June to 18 July. 

The authorities presumably know where their priorities lie. – The Malaysian Insight

The views expressed in Aliran's media statements and the NGO statements we have endorsed reflect Aliran's official stand. Views and opinions expressed in other pieces published here do not necessarily reflect Aliran's official position.
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Mustafa K Anuar
Dr Mustafa K Anuar, a longtime executive committee member and former honorary secretary of Aliran, is, co-editor of our newsletter. He obtained his PhD from City, University of London and is particularly interested in press freedom and freedom of expression issues. These days, he is a a senior journalist with an online media portal
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