Doctors at Kuala Lumpur Hospital tending to a Covid-19 patient in August. -NSTP file pic
Doctors at Kuala Lumpur Hospital tending to a Covid-19 patient in August. -NSTP file pic

THE 12th Malaysia Plan (12MP) for the period of 2021 to 2025 sets out a strategic direction to achieve the objective of a "Prosperous Malaysia, Inclusive and Sustainable".

The RM400 billion plan focused on reviving economic growth and ensuring the country's prosperity can be distributed more fairly and equitably in a sustainable environment.

The prime minister highlighted nine main focus areas. This article is concentrating on the third focus, which is to improve the wellbeing of Malaysian families.

The government remains committed to strengthening the healthcare system to ensure healthy and productive people. In this regard, the government from time to time will review the effectiveness and efficiency of the health system.

National health policies are formulated to enhance preparedness to manage health crises. In line with that, the National Vaccine Development Roadmap is also being finalised to ensure that Malaysia can produce vaccines.

The plan also allows the country to be prepared for any pandemic in the future. In addition, the Malaysian Institute of Infectious Diseases will be built in Bandar Enstek, Negri Sembilan, next year. The establishment of this institute aims to prevent diseases, disabilities, and deaths caused by infectious diseases.

The government has also identified proactive measures to increase hospital readiness, to achieve a ratio of 2.06 hospital beds per thousand population by 2025.

New health facilities will also be developed. Twelve hospitals are being built nationwide and expected to be completed during the 12MP.

In addition, medical equipment and supplies, including intensive care unit requirements, will be added. To bridge the gap between urban and rural health facilities, the government will build and upgrade health clinics throughout the country.

In line with this, the issue of human resource requirement must be addressed. Contract doctors' extension, particularly until the end of 2022, is only a temporary solution.

Therefore, there is a need to absorb contract medical officers into permanent positions in the government system. This will provide hospitals with sufficient manpower and increase overall access to quality health facilities.

To date, there are 23,096 contract doctors: 23,077 medical officers and 19 specialists.

However, since 2016, only 3.4 per cent, or 786 contract doctors, have been offered permanent positions. The role of contract doctors is clear, especially during the critical moments in the Covid-19 pandemic.

At the height of the pandemic, stories of frustration and burn out among contract doctors were aplenty on social media. These are signs of their mental health being affected due to being overwhelmed by the situation.

At the same time, they are also facing an uncertain future. It would only be apt for the contract doctors to be absorbed into the service as a sign of appreciation of their contributions during these difficult times.

The unresolved issue of contract doctors can be traced back to December 2016. The impact of this issue has resulted in the country losing 5,000 contract doctors consisting of specialist doctors and medical officers who resigned from 2016 to June 2021. This figure includes 948 specialist doctors and 4,028 medical officers.

The absorption of contract doctors, though, may result in increased expenditure for the government. It is estimated that RM2 billion per year is needed for contract doctors to be absorbed into permanent posts.

Nevertheless, healthcare is a critical sector that we cannot afford to ignore. If we look at the World Bank Report in 2018, Malaysia only spends about 3.76 per cent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP) on healthcare.

This figure is lower than other countries including Unites States (16.89 per cent), Germany (11.43 per cent), France (11.26 per cent), United Kingdom (10 per cent), New Zealand (9.21 per cent), Australia (9.28 per cent), Japan (10.95 per cent), Canada (10.79 per cent) and South Korea (7.56 per cent).

The role of doctors in preserving the five higher objectives of the is undeniable. Contract doctors can actually play a more meaningful role if they are absorbed.

Directly or indirectly, they have a large role to play in the protection of faith or religion (din), protection of life (nafs), protection of lineage (nasl), protection of intellect (aql) and protection of property (mal).

The writer is a senior fellow at the Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia