Large private hospitals ready for Covid-19 patients if situation worsens

KUALA LUMPUR: Large-capacity private hospitals that are members of the Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM) are ready to receive Covid-19 patients with the Health Ministry anticipating Covid-19 cases will likely peak in mid-April.

APHM president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh (pic) said infectious diseases physicians and specialists in bigger private hospitals are currently undergoing webinar sessions with the ministry to prepare to assist the government should their services be needed.

"We are in constant webinar sessions, held by the ministry, with private specialists on the protocols.

"We are already learning and getting prepared, especially those specialising in infectious diseases," he said in an interview Tuesday (April 7).

While bigger private hospitals in the Klang Valley, Penang and Johor have the capacity to treat Covid-19 patients, such capacity is lacking in Sabah, Sawarak, Perlis, Kedah, Kelantan and Terengganu, said Dr Kuljit.

Critics have alleged that the private hospitals were not taking in Covid-19 patients because of high treatment costs, especially if a patient requires treatment in the intensive care unit (ICU).

Dr Kuljit, however, said these were sent to designated government hospitals as they were better equipped and their doctors more experienced in dealing with infectious diseases. However, private hospitals currently have some staff overcapacity because their patients had not been coming for fear of Covid-19.

As such, if the government needed support from the sector, it could send nurses and hospital attendants or any doctor who were willing to volunteer to public hospitals.

Dr Kuljit also said that currently private hospitals had 900 beds nationwide for the government to send non-Covid-19 patients.

"Most doctors are willing to do pro-bono consultation for most of the patients coming from public hospitals.

"Private hospitals will charge only the cost price of treatment for patients referred by the government," he said, adding that private hospitals had also lent out 68 ventilators to the government.

Medical Practitioners Coalition Association of Malaysia Dr M. Raj Kumar said some GPs were offering Covid-19 screening services and sending positive cases to designated government hospitals to complement the ministry's service.

Others have offered to take over the non-Covid-19 cases, he said.

Citizens' Health Initiative member Dr Chee Heng Leng said private hospitals would need to start treating Covid-19 patients if government hospitals reached full capacity.

Dr Chee, who is also a health analyst, said in a public health crisis situation such as the Covid-19, a "whole of country, whole of society" response would be required.

"This would mean including the private sector – private hospitals, GPs and specialists – in their strategic response.

"The Health Ministry as coordinating leader of this response should then strategise how the private hospitals can come in.

"Private hospitals' premises, facilities, and staff could be made available to treat Covid-19 patients," she said.

However, she stressed the issue of who pays and the cost should be decided at the national level.

"We also need to know what the private hospitals are charging the government (the taxpayers) for Health Ministry-referred non-Covid-19 cases that have been shunted there," she said, adding that private hospitals should revise all their prices downwards for all patients as long as the crisis lasts.

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