KUALA LUMPUR: Newly-registered pharmacists will have to undergo a three-year mandatory service in the public sector from early next year to help overcome the shortage faced by public health institutions, Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng said.
He said the Cabinet approved the ministry's proposal several weeks ago to amend the Registration of Pharmacists Act 1951, which would be tabled at the next Parliament sitting in September.
“Of the current 3,234 practising pharmacists, only 583 are in the public sector, with most of them working with the ministry,” he said.
At present, under the Registration of Pharmacists Act, a pharmacy graduate has to undergo a year's housemanship at an institution recognised by the Pharmacy Board before he or she is eligible for registration with the board and can start practising in the country.
The one-year period is regarded as a year of training and not as a year of service.
Chua said that of the 1,845 pharmacists registered with the Pharmacy Board from 1994 to 2002, only 280 chose to work in the public sector.
“There are 988 pharmacy posts available in the ministry and more than half of the vacancies have yet to be filled,'' he added.
Chua said the vacancy rates were highest in Sarawak – at 79.6%, followed by Negri Sembilan (72.1%), Sabah (68.2%) and Selangor (61.5%).
“Even the Kuala Lumpur Hospital has a vacancy rate at 63.6%. This poses a problem as most of the patients are in government hospitals and clinics and not in the private sector.
“This affects the effective distribution of pharmaceutical services to patients,” he told reporters after addressing NGOs on the second day of the ministry’s annual health dialogue here yesterday.
Chua said that to accommodate the amendment to the Registration of Pharmacists Act, about 3,000 new pharmacists' posts would be created by 2020, and approximately RM72mil utilised between 2004 and 2020 on emoluments for them.
“The compulsory service will provide invaluable experience to the young people as it will expose them to a range of professional experience. These include regulatory enforcement and clinical pharmacy practices,” he said.
He said the pharmacists would learn to work as a team with other healthcare providers, an experience denied them in the private sector.
“These pharmacists would be able to man the new clinics and hospitals being built by providing professional dispensing, patient counselling, drug information, advice on self-care and
help monitor medication errors.
“They will also be able to initiate clinical pharmacy practices previously not available due to shortage of personnel,” he added.
Chua said this included the ready-to-administer drugs distribution system, which means that hospitals repackage medication according to proper dosage for patients, when they are discharged from hospital.
He also said that with more pharmacists, the ministry would be able to conduct enforcement aimed at protecting the public from unsafe and low quality medication or fraudulent health practises.
He said although there would be some shortage of pharmacists faced by the private sector in the next few years, it would be compensated in the long run as the pharmacists' skills and experiences would be enhanced to benefit the private sector.
On the dialogue, Chua said the Government had, this year, allocated RM20mil as financial assistance to NGOs for their work to complement the government's healthcare services.