Extended hours? Give us more doctors, say clinics

PETALING JAYA: The operating hours of health clinics cannot be extended unless there is an increase in manpower, say doctors.

Doctors at these health clinics say they are critically understaffed.

A doctor in Perak said he would see up to 40-50 patients on a usual day and about 20 on a less busy day.

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“This is just during office hours. If the clinic hours are extended to 10pm, we need more doctors,” he said.

With each patient taking about 10 to 15 minutes for the less serious cases, seeing 40 patients would take a doctor between seven and 10 hours. More serious cases need a longer time.

“We need to rotate, otherwise we will burn out and will not be able to make it to the next day. If the Health Ministry wants to increase operating hours, it must also increase the number of staff,” he said.

The doctor noted that the patient load had returned to the pre-pandemic rate.

Another doctor in Pahang said there were four doctors in the clinic but there would always be only one or two available at a time as the others might be attending meetings, courses and making visits.

“There are about 140 patients a day. How many patients a doctor attends to depends on how many doctors are available on that particular day,” she said.

“It is definitely understaffed. For better quality of care, there must be more doctors.

“However, the current situation is still much better than the days when I had to work alone without a break,” she added.

This doctor said health clinics were not only meant for outpatient care but also other services such as antenatal, child health, family planning, methadone, quitting smoking, non-communicable diseases, emergency, prevention and health awareness programmes.

Doctors also have to visit village clinics, indigenous villages and the district health clinic, among others.

Sometime, the clinics receive complex cases too.

She noted that with one doctor attending to emergency cases and only one seeing the regular patients, the waiting time would increase.

She added that doctors were physically and mentally exhausted.

Besides treating patients, medical officers at health clinics are also required to manage paperwork and other administration duties.

“We need more hands if we are going to operate for longer hours,” she said.

Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said last Friday that the extended operating hours for health clinics was among the solutions the ministry was mulling to prevent crowding at emergency departments at hospitals, once there were sufficient resources including manpower.

Citing the Auditor-General’s 2019 report that the wait time at emergency departments was usually longer than six hours, she said: “About 70% of the cases are green zone cases (which are non-critical/cold cases).

“This goes against the scope of or real function of the emergency department which should only receive critical cases.”

However, she said there must be proper planning to ensure that there was no major constraint on resources.

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