“Healthcare expenditure for Budget 2023 must reflect Govt’s strong commitment to reforms”

THE Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has expressed hopes to see an increase in the national healthcare budget to 5% of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP) to truly reflect the Government’s strong commitment to reforms in the healthcare system. 

“For many years, we have been managing with a miniscule amount and yet delivering high quality of care but our facilities are aging and there are shortages in manpower that is stretching the system,” said its president Dr Muruga Raj Rajathurai. 

He noted that a substantial amount will be required specifically to address the shortages in manpower in public healthcare facilities, adding that there is still a long way to go in addressing the contract doctor issue. 

“We hope the current 1,500 permanent positions for next year could be doubled,” he added. 

In Aug 2022 Health minister Khairy Jamaluddin said his ministry has approved 4,053 out of 8,672 initial applications for permanent positions involving contract doctors, dental officers and pharmacists for this year. 

Khairy also said after this round at least 1,500 permanent positions will be offered to contract officers every year. 

Increased allocation for specialisation programmes 

Meanwhile, Dr Muruga also expressed hopes that there will be increased allocations to support specialisation programmes, adding that emphasis is needed in this area to address both the acute shortages in specialists and to ensure Malaysia is equipped with specialisations that will be in high demand when the country reaches ageing nation status. 

In 2030, Malaysia is expected to reach ageing nation status where 15% of the country’s population will be aged 60 and above. 

“Ageing public healthcare facilities will need funds for maintenance and upgrades and although most of the facilities are ageing, MMA proposes that a proper assessment be done to determine which facilities need to be given priority,” he noted. 

“New facilities are also needed especially to reach rural communities and ensure equal distribution of healthcare services nationwide in line with the aims of ensuring Universal Health Coverage (UHC).  

“The deep interiors of Sabah and Sarawak are where these efforts are needed the most. There is need also for a respiratory centre in Kedah.” 

Dr Muruga further expected funds to be injected into the setting-up of specialised centres in north and south regions of Peninsular Malaysia as he noted that there are “still patients traveling to KL and Selangor for certain specialist care services”. 

However, he acknowledged that the development of manpower must be made in tandem with the building of infrastructure to avoid “white elephants” in the form of unutilised infrastructure due to the lack of manpower. 

“If there are new facilities being built, we will also need roads and other conveniences for access. This supporting infrastructure should not be coming out of the healthcare budget but perhaps budgeted under relevant ministries such as the housing and local government ministry,” he suggested. 

Dr Muruga also touched on medicine security, which he stressed is even more crucial now as evidenced by the current prolonged disruption of medical supply in the country. 

“The health ministry could also look into investment in our own research and development (R&D) to enable us to reduce dependency on foreign pharmaceuticals,” he reckoned. 

Dr Muruga suggested that in line with the ministry’s plan to give workers an additional day of leave to undergo health screening, the Government could also increase the current tax incentives for working adults to further encourage them to go for health screening. 

“We hope there will also be allocations to enhance primary care delivery in government healthcare facilities and in the private sector through public private collaborations,” he commented. 

“The 8,000 over private general practitioners (GPs) nationwide, as witnessed during the pandemic, have an important role in the county’s healthcare system.  

“The government should take advantage of this wide distribution of private GP clinics in the delivery of healthcare through programmes for the communities.” – Sept 16, 2022 

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