Cut in allocation expected to have impact on healthcare

PETALING JAYA: Any cut in allocation for health in Budget 2023 will have an impact on healthcare in years to come, says a think tank.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, said the government needs to demonstrate not only compassionate leadership, but also boldness and vision.

“Any reduction in this year’s health allocation will be reflected in the prevalence of non-communicable diseases, ability to provide quality care, number of healthcare professionals leaving the service and worse, morbidity and mortality data for years to come.

“We need to maintain and strengthen our investment in health, not reduce it,” he said in a statement yesterday.

A revised Budget 2023 will be tabled on Feb 24.

Azrul also called for the recruitment of those outside of Malaysia to address manpower shortage.

“The government needs to convene a multisectoral taskforce comprising other ministries and agencies (such as the Public Service Department, Human Resource and Higher Education Ministries) to put together a national health workforce strategy, to listen to staff, look at issues and to put together long-term plans to address both recruitment and staff retention,” he said, adding that staff retention is also important.

“It is critical to listen and take the views of our healthcare workers seriously. The government must make the formation of this taskforce a priority for its first 100 days,” he added.

Azrul noted that the findings of a recent survey by CodeBlue (a portal dedicated to health-related news) reconfirmed that healthcare professionals are overstretched.

“The people who work on the frontlines of healthcare are our greatest asset and are key to delivering high-quality care. They have shown remarkable resilience and commitment. Yet, their concerns appear not to be taken seriously,” he said, adding that excessive workload and burnout, amidst widespread anxiety, trauma, and mental fatigue are causing many to quit, causing shortages, and increasing pressure on staff, hence creating a vicious cycle.

He said the emergency and trauma departments were already described as war zones even before the Covid-19 crisis.

“The pandemic has exacerbated these long-term issues, weakened parts of our healthcare system, and caused permanent damage. In some hospitals today, people are waiting between 24 hours and several days for a bed,” Azrul said.

The shortage of staff, in addition to insufficient hospital beds, have contributed to prolonged wait for beds and congestion at emergency departments, he said.

According to doctors, the wait at some government hospitals could go up to two days or more due to the congestion.

“With more demand for care as patients pour into hospitals and clinics, healthcare professionals are being forced to choose between care for themselves and care for their patients, which is incredibly unfair,” he added.

He said some healthcare workers are already experiencing burnout and there are significant numbers intending to leave, or have already done so.

“Some are leaving to work in other countries, or worse, leaving medicine altogether,” he said.

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