Groups welcome amendments to resolve parallel pathway issue, say more urgency needed

PETALING JAYA: While welcoming the government’s will to resolve the parallel pathway issue, groups say urgent amendments were needed to the Medical Act when Parliament sits later this month.

Citing the critical shortage of specialists in the country, the Malaysian Association for Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery (MATCVS) honorary secretary Prof Dr John Chan Kok Meng said graduates from the parallel pathway training are ready to work as specialists in public hospitals.

“The impasse has been going on for too long and is unsettling for patients, the doctors looking after them, and the graduates.

“We hope amendments include recognising all training pathways and qualifications previously recognised by the Health Ministry and recognising Ministry hospitals as training institutions to continue parallel pathway programmes successfully,” he said.

Dr Chan also commended the Health and Higher Education minister's commitment towards the matter.

He similarly highlighted the need for a process within the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) to evaluate the training and qualifications of specialists whose qualifications have yet to be recognised by the MMC.

“It must be verified by MMC’s relevant specialist committees with subject matter experts ensuring standards and quality, and not just by committees with no representation from the relevant specialities, or by the secretariat alone.

“All training programs should meet the standards of the National Postgraduate Medical Curriculum of the respective specialities to ensure quality.

“There should also be a right of appeal of decisions made by the MMC to the Health Minister,” he said.

Reforms, Dr Chan said, were also needed towards MMC membership to better reflect the Health Ministry’s role as the nation’s largest healthcare provider.

“The Health director-general too should continue as the MMC president to ensure continued accountability to the ministry,” he said.

Malaysian Medical Association president Dr Azizan Abdul Aziz meanwhile called for greater urgency on the matter.

“We appreciate the commitment shown but more urgency is needed. Producing specialists is vital and the Parallel Pathway Programme has steadily contributed towards this end since time immemorial,” she said.

Dr Azizan also stressed how affected doctors could not be recognised as specialists in the meantime.

“This will result in longer waiting times for life-saving treatment as well as greater morbidity and mortality amongst our people; who are already facing the brunt of a compromised healthcare system,” she said.

She added that revamping the MMC’s composition would be timely.

“E-voting must be introduced to give all doctors a greater voice as to who represents them in the council.

“Let us get past this once and for all. The health needs of the nation is paramount,” said Dr Azizan.

In The Star’s front page exclusive on June 1, it was reported that the Health Ministry may be given more clout in conducting and recognising specialist training programmes to deal with the parallel pathway conflict.

A ministry source told The Star that this could be done through amendments to the Medical Act 1971.

The source added that there is a possibility that the Health Minister would be given “clearer powers” to veto MMC’s decisions if there is any conflict, and to enable certain checks and balances on the council.

On May 27, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad said the Medical Act 1971 will be amended to resolve issues related to the parallel pathway programme.

In March, he told the Dewan Rakyat that only 14 cardiothoracic surgeons were working under his ministry.

The Star in March reported that the shortage of cardiothoracic surgeons has left some 1,500 heart and lung disease patients in government hospitals in dire straits.

Some of the above cardiothoracic surgeons will also be retiring soon.

Malaysian graduates who had been sent by the government to study cardiothoracic surgery at the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh (RCSEd) are unable to practise in Malaysia as their qualifications are not accepted by the MMC.

In response, the MMC said it had never recognised the RCSEd programme.

Four of these graduates have already sued the MMC for refusing to register them with the National Specialist Register (NSR).

This was the third known lawsuit against the MMC’s rejection of NSR specialist registration applications.

The other two lawsuits were filed by a neurosurgeon with FRCS Ireland in neurosurgery and by six pathology graduates in medical genetics from Universiti Sains Malaysia.

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