I FULLY agree with the views expressed by the writers of the letters “Give more doctors chance to be specialists” and “More oncologists needed” (The Star, March 22).
The situation of patients waiting for months to get specialist treatment or surgical procedures has been going on for ages in our public hospitals.
I understand that we need to collectively review our budgets in view of the prevailing economic climate and the challenging times our nation is facing. However, if there is any need to trim the budget, then it must start with the operating expenditure first. What good is any national budget if the operating budget exceeds the developmental budget?
We cannot trim wages and fixed allowances because of inflation and rising cost of living plus the GST. Additionally, it has legal implications as wages and fixed allowances are mostly contractual in nature. We recognise the need for the GST as it is a broad-based tax and especially because many people who should pay tax are not doing so. With the GST, everyone is made to pay something although it still does not completely solve the problem of tax defaulters.
As a former civil servant, I remember the words of our former prime ministers Tun Abdul Razak and Tun Hussein Onn who always stressed that “the developmental budget must always significantly exceed the operating budget, otherwise we will never become a developed nation.”
Coming back to the issue of training slots for specialists, we must not forget that training is part of development. If we do not train them now, or postpone it to a later date, we will not harvest any fruit and we will fail to meet the targeted needs. The perennial problem of lack of specialists will become more acute.
We aspire to become a developed nation by 2020 and yet we are unable to provide basic and affordable medical attention to the rakyat. The rich and super rich can go to private hospitals or abroad to seek medical treatment but what about the poor and middle class who are struggling to make ends meet? More importantly, these poor and middle class rakyat have no way to avoid paying taxes as most of them are wage earners whose salaries are deducted for tax automatically via the monthly scheduler tax deduction (STD) and they are also not excluded from paying GST.
I fervently hope and pray that the Health Ministry will rethink the plan to trim the master’s scholarship programme and instead increase the numbers so that (even if not by 2020) in the foreseeable future, we will have enough medical specialists and surgeons who will be able to provide timely treatment for the rakyat.
It is no secret that among the medical specialists, the dire and critical shortage is for surgeons of various disciplines. More slots must be made available for various surgical disciplines because, unlike other fields, surgery is paramount and most of the procedures take hours to perform.
I have an aunt who has been waiting for three months now to get a colonoscopy done. And there is a friend who has been waiting for eight months for an angiogram. If they had money, they would go to private hospitals and get it done the very next day but alas, they are living from hand to mouth. What else can they do other than wait and hope that there will be no cancerous polyp in the colon or blockage in the heart.
The Health Ministry must view this matter with the utmost seriousness. By all means, trim the operating budget, cut out all the unnecessary expenditures which do not have life-threatening implications, but please don’t touch the budget for the critical areas.