If you haven’t, it is time you got acquainted with the man: Aneurin Bevan was the Minister of Health in post-war Britain who played a key role in setting up the National Health Service.
It was Bevan who uttered these immortal words: “The collective principle asserts that… no society can legitimately call itself civilised if a sick person is denied medical aid because of lack of means.”
Which means health care is not a commodity but a basic right that should be made available and accessible to all. It also means we need a top-class public health care system with adequate funding. That was what the speakers at a Sembang-Sembang talk this afternoon, Dr Jeyakumar and Dr Jayabalan, stressed.
Many among the audience at the Caring Society Complex in Penang were moved when they heard a woman, Roszita, describing how she lost her husband, Ahmad Nazri, 49, a heart patient, because the couple were unable to raise RM19,000 in time to buy three stents that were needed to deal with blockages.
Since the privatisation of the hospital’s pharmaceutical services, patients have had to buy such things on their own before surgery can be performed.
In Ahmad’s case, he did have the money – but it was tied up with the EPF, which was then apparently involved in a ridiculous ding-dong with the Penang GH over a guarantee of payment letter. By the time, the EPF finally issued the guarantee letter it was too late for Ahmad, who passed away on 19 January 2010. He leaves behind Roszita and five children.
As Ahmad noted just a month earlier: “Tak ada wang pun mati, ada wang di EPF pun mati. Ini adalah wang sendiri bukan nak minta wang EPF!” (Full story here.)
We can see the Health Ministry and other “health care industry” players rushing to turn health care into a commodity and trying to capitalise on so-called “medical tourism”. Hello, health care is a basic human right! What happened to rakyat didahulukan? How many more Ahmad Nazris are out there? I remember my plumber too succumbed to heart failure in very much similar circumstances a couple of years ago.
Steeped in its neo-liberal mindset, the Health Ministry now plans to extend a ‘Full Paying Patients’ pilot scheme to even more hospitals on the quiet. Basically, under this scheme, patients in general hospitals can now jump the queue to see specialists if they have the money. Apparently, the specialists are happy with the scheme (because they make more money, perhaps up to RM20,000 more a month) while patients – the ones with the money, that is – are pleased they can see the specialists more quickly.
But what about those patients without the money? No money, no talk.
What a ‘caring’ society. People First, Performance Now? More like Money First, Surgery Later.