Penang to take advantage of medical tourism boom

GEORGE TOWN, Aug 22 – Penang is looking to increase the number of hospitals in the state, Lim Guan Eng said today, admitting that the sudden boom in medical tourism here has led to a shortage of bed space for locals in government hospitals.

The Penang Chief Minister agreed that more hospitals are necessary to meet the demands of the medical tourism industry, which has been government setups like the Penang Hospital.

“This is why we are now in the midst of discussions since last year with some companies in the industry as we hope to bring in more companies to cater to the health industry,” he said in a press conference after the official opening of a High Dependency Unit at Penang Adventist Hospital here.

Lim said there is no confirmation yet but it is hoped that the state would have a positive announcement on this within six to nine months’ time.

“Penang does need more hospitals to cater to the medical tourism industry as we do not want to overload the government hospitals when it is meant for Malaysians,” he said.

A government hospital’s main purpose is to provide subsidised healthcare to Malaysians so medical tourists seeking treatments at a government hospital is seen as taking up bedspace or a specialist’s time meant for locals.

Despite the lack of bedspace and also specialists in certain fields in the industry in the state that had driven medical tourists to the Penang Hospital, the state government is still bent on promoting the state as a Medical City.

While emphasising on the need for private hospitals in the state to increase their capacities and improve on expertise to prevent the spillovers to government hospitals, Lim said it is also high time that all private hospitals cooperate to meet the industry growth.

“We want to see greater collaboration between the private hospitals to promote Penang as a medical tourism destination,” he said.

Though there was a Penang Hospitals Alliance set up for this purpose, Lim said it is high time that the hospitals under the alliance come together to produce an action plan to achieve a better milestone in medical tourism.

"We have high quality healthcare and facilities here and at affordable rates so we should tap into this segment now especially when even in Singapore, the healthcare rates are very high so Singaporeans can come here for our medical services," he said.

Penang received more than 300,000 medical tourists in 2011 and the state accounted for 60 per cent of the total medical tourists to Malaysia in the same year.