Penang to improve access to healthcare


One for album: The elected representatives taking a group photo in the state assembly building.

GEORGE TOWN: A pharmacy task force has been set up to make medical help more accessible in Penang, says Dr Norlela Ariffin.

The Penang health committee chairman said a meeting on the task force was held and attended by health and pharmacy experts, including presidents of pharmacy associations, hospital directors and the dean of the Pharmacy Faculty at Universiti Sains Malaysia.

“In order to solve the problem of long queues at government hospitals, the state government has set up an action team to implement the community pharmacy project, with a total of 305 pharmacists and doctors participating.

“The plan is mainly to facilitate people in various districts, especially poor people, to obtain medicine or seek medical consultation at nearby pharmacies and clinics without having to go to government hospitals.

“At present, the public has to wait for a long time or make an appointment when they go to government hospitals for consultation or to get medicine, and the hospitals are often overcrowded,” she said.

However, Norlela said since it is a government-private partnership, all participating pharmacies have to be certified.

“Under the project, patients can request government hospitals to send their medicine to private pharmacies for them to pick up, but this is subject to approval from the Health Ministry,” she said.

She noted that there are 305 community pharmacies in Penang this year compared with 268 last year.

“This shows that the increase in the number of community pharmacies in Penang is one of the lowest compared to other states.

“Through the task force meeting, the proposed distance between two community pharmacies is 100m.

“This will make it easier for residents living in rural areas to get their medicine supplies,” she added.

Norlela announced the setting up of the task force at this week’s state assembly meeting.

Pengkalan Kota assemblyman Daniel Gooi suggested that more publicity be given to the community pharmacy task force to increase awareness of the initiative.

“This is indeed a good move. However, the state government should strengthen the publicity of this initiative, including in different languages, so that people of all ethnic groups may know about it and benefit from it,” he said.

On a separate issue, Norlela said the ratio of psychiatrists to the population in Penang public hospitals is about 1:100,000 while the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends 1:10,000.

The ratio of clinical psychologists to the population in public hospitals in Penang is about 1:600,000 compared to the WHO recommendation of 1:5,000.

“Although the shortage of psychiatrists and clinical psychologists is dependent on the number of trained specialists and staffing, the state Health Department is always proactive in offering services and implementing various programmes related to mental health.

“For cases related to mental health emergencies, patients can get services at the emergency unit at any of the nearest hospitals.

“In addition to hospital services, counsellor services are also available through appointments at health clinics,” she said.

Health clinics in the state, she added, also offer mental health screenings without any referral letter during office hours.

“Physicians in health clinics in the state are able to treat cases related to less serious mental health problems such as stress, anxiety and depression.

“Mental health services need to be viewed more holistically and this task is not only borne by the Health Ministry.

“Education and mental healthcare should be a priority and involve the cooperation of various stakeholders,” she said.

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