This was the scene at the Bukit Mertajam General Hospital over the lunch break today (1.45pm) at the ophthalmology department. Some senior citizen patients who arrived for their appointments earlier this morning had not yet seen the doctors.
Some of them just waited here without lunch. Maybe they didn’t have transport to venture out or they didn’t have money for lunch at the hospital canteen, if they knew where it was.
I was accompanying a senior citizen, a retired senior health inspector, whose appointment was at 10am today. After a long wait, he was told that he could only be seen at 2.30pm but it is past 3pm and he has still not yet seen the doctors. (Finally, he was called in at 3.48pm and we only left the hospital at 4.30pm. A tentative date was given for his cataract op – towards the end of November 2018, almost nine months away. But he has to come back again in October with various test results before the op date can be confirmed.)
During an earlier visit, they had told him, much to his dismay, that they had misplaced his card (still not computerised in 2018?) and so he had to make more trips here from his home in a neighbouring town.
Another patient who had been here for a 9am appointment said he had not yet been seen (by 3pm).
“Why call patients to come at a certain time when they lack doctors to see the patients especially after Chinese New Year when a few of the doctors are on leave?” said the former senior health inspector, clearly disappointed with the overstretched service. What an utter waste of time and what a sad situation.
These large crowds are not an isolated instance as similar throngs were seen during earlier visits (see below).
I feel sorry for these patients many of whom are senior citizens who have to wait for a long time and make repeated trips to visit the clinic.
Also pity the staff and doctors who have to cope with the heavy patient load.
May I suggest that some of our political leaders register here in Bukit Mertajam the next time they need an eye procedure or cataract removed instead of going to big city hospitals or posh private hospitals.
The health minister and his team should hit the ground and visit such hospitals and talk to the patients about their experience. Then maybe, just maybe, they will understand what the public have to go through.
Why can’t the BN federal government build more eye clinics and hire more staff? Unfortunately it spends only about 2% of GDP on public healthcare, a big chunk of it going to privatised drug procurement and privatised support services.
Instead so much public money has also been squandered through mismanagement and corruption.
So it is not surprising to see our general hospitals crowded, underfunded and overstretched.
The Penang state government for its part seems more interested in medical tourism, which reaps profits mainly for the private hospitals.
I think the only MP who has consistently highlighted shortcomings in the public healthcare system over the years is Sungai Siput MP Dr Jeyakumar Devaraj.