Reintroduce three-year compulsory service to address contract doctors issue, says former MMA president

Former Malaysian Medical Association president Professor Datuk Dr N.K.S. Tharmaseelan believes all doctors must complete three years of compulsory service to ensure a better healthcare system in the country.

In so doing, it would also alleviate the problem of contract doctors plaguing the county, while addressing the shortage of doctors in public hospitals.

Currently, 30 to 40 per cent of doctors who complete their housemanship are cut loose from the system, while those chosen must do two years of compulsory service, which can be reduced to 18 months.

Previously, they had to complete three years of compulsory service after serving their housemanship – a practice put in place since before the independence – but was changed in 2010.

Dr Tharmaseelan said he hopes the new Health director-general, Datuk Dr Muhammad Radzi Abu Hassan, will look into the matter.

“I was strongly against the decision to reduce the length of compulsory service when I was with the MMA (Malaysian Medical Association),” said Tharmaseelan, who served as president from 2013-2014.

“Doctors could use those extra years to gain more experience, as they would have served in every department, and be well-trained.

“Some could use that time to prepare to be specialists, as doctors must serve three years in a recognised posting before taking the next step. This is not possible if there is no compulsory service.”

He said those who left after five years would be more proficient and well-rounded as physicians, and could confidently open private clinics, or go on to complete the necessary steps to become specialists.

As it is now, doctors who were asked to leave after completing their housemanship are struggling to make ends meet.

“Perhaps the decision to eliminate the compulsory service was to reduce the costs to the government, which does not have to pay to retain these contract doctors. But this has led to a surplus of contract doctors in the market who are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.

Commenting on Majlis Amanah Rakyat (Mara) chairman Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki’s statement yesterday that Mara was willing to help contract doctors by giving them financing and training to open their own practices, Dr Tharmaseelan said the idea would only work if the doctors were competent.

“Sending doctors out (to set up their own clinics) before they are ready would only compromise the healthcare system,” said Dr Tharmaseelan.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim recently promised that his government would absorb 12,800 of the 20,333 contract doctors into permanent service within three years.

Dr Tharmaseelan added that while Malaysia had a decent doctor-population ratio, the distribution of medical personnel was uneven.

“You might find more than enough doctors at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital, but you cannot say the same about hospitals in Terengganu and East Malaysia,” he said.

“We need to increase the number of training hospitals. We do not need to open new hospitals, just upgrade the existing facilities.”