Task force finds no compelling evidence of bullying related to junior doctor's death

PETALING JAYA: There was no strong evidence of workplace bullying in relation to the death of a 25-year-old houseman in Penang Hospital earlier this year, reported the Healthcare Work Culture Improvement Task Force (HWCITF).

Taskforce chairman Datuk Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir said based on their findings, there was no "solid evidence" that connected the death to alleged bullying at the workplace on April 17.

“The HWCITF maintains this view as long as there is no additional information related to the houseman’s death from the police through their investigation into the case.

“More than 60% of survey respondents stated the work culture at the Health Ministry is positive, especially in terms of patient care, community and teamwork,” she said in a statement on Wednesday (Aug 17).

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Dr Siti Hamisah added that incidents of burnout, bullying and an unhealthy work culture does occur at the Health Ministry, but at different levels and not in all health facilities.

“It is found that bullying culture does not only occur among housemen, it happens across all levels of employees of the Health Ministry directly or indirectly.

“Among the contributing factors is scarcity in competence, skills and level of readiness to perform assigned tasks,” she said.

The task force, she added, also found there were inconsistencies in housemanship training systems within hospitals including long hours, as well as incomprehensive guidelines, to the implementation of housemen flexi-work system.

“The HWCITF recommends an approach that is more structured and consistent through compliance and strengthening existing standards and guidelines.

“The HWCITF also found there was a need to optimise the number of human resources and infrastructure facilities to ensure the best continuity of patient care.

“Most of the work matters are still carried out on a regular manual basis and the lack of digitisation has caused an increase in workload and delayed the delivery process in health services.

“Despite the existence of policies, guidelines and regulations related to management and complaint channels at the Health Ministry, the HWCITF is of the view that it needs to be improved and reinforced to ensure the element's confidentiality is applied in the complaint management process to give confidence to the complainant,” she said.

The task force presented 10 recommendations which include setting up a Medical Qualifying Committee, conducting houseman candidate screening, standardisation for housemanship training, and improving the E-Houseman system.

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Meanwhile, Dr Siti Hamisah said the HWCITF which was formed on May 13, submitted evaluation reports and improvement recommendations to Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin on Aug 11.

“The HWCITF is a follow-up from the incident of the death of a graduate medical officer Penang Hospital on April 17.

“A task force consisting of nine members representing various fields of expertise was entrusted.

“The survey was conducted involving 110,411 officers and Health Ministry staff as respondents, and has provided data that is rich with in-depth information,” she said.

Dr Siti Hamisah added that the HWCITF was of the view that a career in health services was very challenging and required individuals who were truly committed and willing to go through the training and challenges of the work environment.

“They should also be prepared to deal with a high workload and long working hours.

“Proposals to improve work culture must not have a negative impact on the quality of medical officers and their services.

“This is because there are many more medical officers who are trained in a conducive environment and are able to provide the best health services to patients.

“While the Covid-19 pandemic has had a great impact on the Health Ministry, HWCITF hopes the ministry will ensure that continuous efforts are implemented to improve existing systems, procedures, standard operating procedures and enact new regulations that are more in line with current needs and requirements,” she said.

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