The right move to free up hospital beds, experts say

PETALING JAYA: Elective surgeries and procedures in government hospitals should continue to be reduced to free up more hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, say medical experts.

They said Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s May 2 announcement to reduce or postpone such procedures was the “right move’’.

“As of now, the most important thing is the management of the Covid-19 situation, ” said Malaysian Medical Association president Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy.

“Elective surgeries and procedures are something that can wait up to a year or two.

‘’In some countries such as the United Kingdom, some elective surgeries have to wait up to three years. If an elective case becomes an emergency, then the procedure will still be done.

“We are in desperate need of beds for Covid-19 patients. That’s the right move to make.”

Citing some examples, Dr Subramaniam said elective procedures included patients who come to the hospital with a lump, a bump or a hernia that need not be operated on immediately.

“If it does give a rise to a complication, then it will be converted into an emergency and surgery will be performed, ” he said, adding that patients should keep track of their condition while waiting for treatment.

Dr Subramaniam said the government should make use of the roughly 8,000 general practitioners in private healthcare nationwide to treat these elective cases following a surge in Covid-19 cases.

“They are not so much involved in Covid-19 for various reasons. So, all these elective patients can be referred to these private facilities, provided the government foots their bills according to a government circular.

“The doctors are well trained and can handle these cases. We should use these doctors, ” he said.

In a June circular last year that has been extended this year, government hospitals are allowed to send elective patients to private hospitals for treatment with the cost to be borne by the government.

On May 2, Dr Noor Hisham said the ministry would continue to work with private hospitals, teaching staff or universities in the Klang Valley to increase the capacity of critical beds.

He said the collaboration included outsourcing non-Covid-19 patients with certain cases and procedures for treatment at private hospitals, with the cost to be borne by the government at an agreed charge.Association of Private Hospitals Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said such a move would free up more beds for Covid-19 patients at public hospitals as most Covid-19 wards and intensive care units (ICUs) at private hospitals in the Klang Valley were full.

“We can only treat a limited number of Covid-19 patients based on our capacity and the number of doctors.

“We don’t have house officers and medical officers so we cannot take many patients like government hospitals, ” he said, adding that private hospitals were still able to help treat elective patients.

Despite supporting the Health Ministry’s move to reduce or postpone elective procedures, Dr Kuljit said private hospitals could rise to the occasion given the government circular, budget and guidelines.

With almost no medical tourists now, he said operating theatres, CT (computed tomography) imaging facilities and other resources of private hospitals were not in use now.

“We can help. The government has given the rates and a cap for each procedure and we are agreeable to the rates.

“We should go for a win-win option for patients’ benefit, ” he said, adding that the ministry did the right thing by having the circular in place together with the necessary budget allocation and guidelines.

Dr Kuljit also noted that elective cases were non-emergencies and involved all sorts of surgeries or procedures with patients ranging from babies to cancer patients.

“Some have been waiting since before the pandemic and have been suffering for a long time.

“These cases should not be postponed further as the pandemic will take some time to get better, ’’ he said.

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