Should VIPs get priority treatment in overcrowded clinics and emergency departments?

Editor’s Note: This is a letter to editor by “Distressed Doctor” which originally appeared on the CodeBlue health news portal and republished with permission to highlight the need for public hospitals to treat all its patients as equals. The author whose identity is withheld as civil servants are prohibited from writing to the media is a doctor from Serdang Hospital in Selangor.


EVEN though almost every specialist clinic and emergency department in this country faces overcrowding, lack of resources, and inadequate personnel, specialist clinics and emergency departments often prioritise treatment for VIPs (very important person).

This problem is common across public hospitals.

VIPs are any head of any government department, any high-ranking officer in any ministry, their relatives, Datuk, Tan Sri or well-connected people.

They would present themselves to the emergency department, even with a stable condition. Yet, there would calls from “higher ups” to see and treat them as soon as possible, cutting queue.

The specialist on duty would receive calls from the head of department or hospital director to review these VIPs and report back ASAP (as soon as possible). If needed, all the other department specialists would be called down to expedite care.

This is despite the long queue of other patients who are waiting for their turn to be seen, or more critically ill patients who would benefit from specialist input and care.

Once, the bodyguard of an ex-PM (prime minister) who met with a road accident and had a leg fracture was expedited to be admitted to the ward immediately despite other patients having had to wait two to three days and had yet to be assigned beds in the ward.

Some clinics run VIP clinics where the head of department or a very senior consultant will set aside some specific time to review VIP patients.

The reason given is we have to take care of them or answer to the Big Bosses up there; also that they “deserve” special care because of their contribution to the country.

The Hippocratic Oath holds that every patient should be treated equally – with the same respect and dignity – whatever their rank, religion, or status.

This special attention for well-connected persons in public hospitals causes a disparity in the quality of care received, especially in the emergency department. – Dec 28, 2022


Main photo credit: Ipoh Echo

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