While political groups play on ethnicity and religion to strengthen their grip on power and divert attention from critical social issues, price hikes and corruption; while some political leaders seek the best medical treatment for themselves; while five-star ‘medical tourism’ is being promoted for better-off visitors; many Malaysians from the lower-income group and middle-class are silently feeling the strain of inadequate public health care infrastructure.
This was the scene that greeted me when I visited a friend at the Seberang Jaya Hospital on 4 January. A cubicle in a medical ward designed for six beds is now forced to accommodate 10 or 11 beds, making the whole cubicle congested.
The cubicle was originally meant for six beds – three against the left wall as you enter and three against the right, with curtain dividers separating the beds for privacy when needed and ample space for visitors to be seated.
But now, there are four beds on either side, with another two or three beds laid out perpendicularly in the centre walkway. As you can see, visitors coming to see the patients have to stand as there is barely any space between the beds.
The curtain dividers for the three beds on either side are now useless as there are now four beds instead of three squeezed on either side. So there is little privacy for the patients.
At the centre of the room lies a half-conscious patient. A Rohingya refugee, he was found lying at the roadside and brought to the hospital. He is unable to speak in the local language and no one can make out what he is saying, except that he is always hungry. Does he have any family? And now he is in a faraway land, what will become of him?
There is one small toilet and one small shower room for this cubicle of 11 beds. A wheelchair can barely squeeze into these rooms – and how to reach the toilet flush handle on the wall behind?
I hear also that where there used to be three operating theatres at the hospital, there is only one theatre in use at the moment. The other two apparently have been “under renovation” for over a year. Last year, I heard there could be more OTs in the pipeline. But it has already been over a year. So the one remaining OT is being used for emergency cases while those patients who need elective surgery are diverted to nearby hospitals such as at Bertam. What happens if there are several emergency cases at the same time which require urgent surgical procedures? Is precious time to be wasted in transporting the patients to hospitals further away?
Don’t get me wrong; the staff at the hospital are doing an admirable job under the circumstances. Many of them are hard-working and diligent – but they are being let down by the inadequate infrastructure and equipment and lack of specialists in certain sections. And I shudder to think there could be other general hospitals that have to operate with even less resources.
A government doctor based in Kedah told me the number of patients seeking treatment in his general hospital has risen noticeably. Can anyone confirm this? Is this another consequence of the Barang Naik syndrome – that more people can no longer afford to go to private hospitals?
Last I heard, the Malaysian government spends only about 2 per cent of GDP on public health care. And this includes the high cost of support services (cleaning, maintenance, meals for patients, drug procurement) after their privatisation to well-connected companies during the Mahathir administration. At least the corporate boys are happy.
Blog visitor gooner shares his experience:
As a health care worker in the government, I can attest that the above pictures are but the norm in government hospitals.
I’ve worked in general hospitals and also district hospitals, where facilities are even more lacking compared to those in the general hospitals (which are already lacking in proper infrastructure and medical equipment); so those pictures are no surprise to me.
There are smaller districts hospitals where it takes more than two hours to reach a general hospital- imagine the hassle the health care team and the patient’s family have to go through! The people DESERVE better treatment than this – health should be a priority in the development of ALL nations.
Over in Kuching, blog contact JJ says the Sarawak General Hospital, along with its parking constraints, says the situation is no better.
Blog visitor StrugglingToMakeEndsMeet reflects the thoughts of many low-income Malaysians:
… for folks fortunate enough to have medical insurance, they don’t see this. Unfortunately for me, I had to live it.
My son was admitted two years ago in Klang TAR Hospital. Cramped doesn’t begin to describe it. I could see the look of shock on my friend’s and Pastor’s faces when they visited. People and belongings being moved everyday.
My poor son had to sleep in the middle of a cubicle, on the side and anywhere they could fit a bed until a main bed became available. I wanted to cry for not being able to afford medical insurance and private hospital care. However, the nurses and (most) doctors were superb in coping with the environment and workload.
It’s no wonder doctors can’t wait to leave government service! My biggest fear is to have to be hospitalised in my old age and having no option but government hospital.
What do the politicians care when they drive around in their fancy limousines and jet-set around the world.
Share with us your experience of the state of our general hospitals.