Are unethical doctors treating patients?

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 12 Jun 2016

RECENTLY, a complaint was lodged with the Malaysian Medical Council about a doctor practising here who allegedly got into a foreign medical school despite not meeting basic entry requirements. No action was taken.

There are many cases of Malaysians getting into recognised universities without the minimum grades or, worse, no grades at all, according to Prof Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan, a past president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) and the Medico-Legal Society of Malaysia; he is currently president and CEO of a private university.

There are at least 3,000 such doctors working in the Health Ministry, he believes, expressing surprise that the council doesn’t bar candidates who had gained admission into medical programmes fraudulently.

On May 15, education agents told Sunday Star they can guarantee entry into some of the most difficult courses like medicine for a fee. That exclusive front page story was a follow-up to another front page story on March 20 about foreign universities taking in unqualified Malaysian students by ignoring the Higher Education Ministry’s minimum requirements and conducting their own sub-standard foundation courses.

In the case of the recent complaint mentioned above, the doctor in question had been caught together with 14 Malaysian students in 1998 for faking her pre-university results to study medicine in India. They were tried there and let off with a warning.

Another doctor, upset about the unethical way Malaysians are getting into medical schools, questioned the professionalism of someone who faked results and brought the matter before the council, reveals Dr Tharmaseelan. While the council admits that the complaint is true, it dismissed the case last month.

“The issue here is the use of fake results to gain admission into a recognised university. She has since graduated with a legit Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery degree but the concern is that this doctor is now seeing patients,” says Dr Tharmaseelan.

While their eventual medical degree might be legitimate since they undertook a legitimate course, should doctors who began their course of study so unethically be entrusted with patients’ lives?

According to Dr Tharmaseelan, the Malaysian Medical Council is the final authority in registering its members and issuing Annual Practising Certificates (APC). If the council has given its approval and registered this doctor for practice, she is officially sanctioned to do so freely unless conditions have been attached to her APC.

It’s for the council to review its decision if an appeal or complaint is made.

Despite this issue of students with ques­tionable entry into medical programmes, Dr Tharmaseelan feels the law does adequately protect patients in this country.

“Malaysian patients are among the most privileged. Even in public hospitals where treatment is free, patients can still sue for millions if negligence is proven. An institution or clinic can be sued if they employ doctors with dubious degrees.

“All doctors must be registered and have an APC. Patients can demand to see their doctor’s licence,” he says, urging the medical council to blacklist colleges that admit students who do not meet minimum entry requirements.

Assuring the public that its members are legitimate and qualified, Malaysian Medical Council president and Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah stresses that only those registered under the Medical Act 1971 and the Medical Regulation 1974 are eligible to practise medicine in Malaysia.

Graduates from universities listed in the Act’s Second Schedule are eligible for provisional registration and can undergo housemanship training. Upon completion of the training, they are eligible for full registration. Housemen who fail to complete their training won’t be granted full registration and cannot practise medicine in the country.

The listing of universities in the Second Schedule, he explains, is subject to a medical programme being recognised. The Malaysian Qualifications Agency, in collaboration with the medical council, appoints a panel of assessors and auditors for local medical programmes. For foreign medical programmes, panel members may be appointed from the medical council, the qualification agency, Health Ministry, Higher Education Ministry and the Public Service Department. The panel’s role is to check a programme’s standards and quality before recommending whether it can be recognised and listed in the Second Schedule.

Medical programme graduates from universities not listed in the Second Schedule must sit for, and pass, the Medical Qualification Examination or Examination for the Provisional Registration here before they can be considered for provisional registration and housemanship training at the 44 designated hospitals nationwide.

“Housemanship provides an opportunity for new graduates to be further trained, supervised and guided so that they can become safe and competent doctors. On top of the four monthly rotations in six major clinical dis­ciplines – general medicine, paediatrics, general surgery, orthopaedics, obstetrics and gynaecology – one obligatory posting in emergency medicine, anaesthesiology, psychiatry or primary care is also a must under the two-year housemanship training,” explains Dr Noor Hisham.

Federation of Private Medical Practitioners’ Associations Malaysia founding member and MMA past president Dr Milton Lum reminds the public to check the Malaysian Medical Council website to see if their doctor is on it, as all registered doctors are listed there.

“If you suspect a doctor is unqualified, tell the council. If in doubt, the council will communicate with the university the doctor in question qualified from.”

MMA president Dr John Chew describes the council’s requirements and training programme as rigorous, adding that it will only improve with time.

“If there are some who taint the system, the council must take action. The system is robust enough to protect the public.”

Complaints against any registered medical practitioner – especially complaints about competency, ethics, discipline and professional misconduct – will be investigated, Dr Noor Hisham insists.

If the council’s preliminary investigation committee finds enough evidence, the complaint will be given a full hearing by the council. From 2010 to 2015, a total of 566 complaints were received. In the last five years, five doctors were struck from the registry, 28 were suspended, and 36 reprimanded.

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