KUALA LUMPUR, March 21 — Contract medical officers employed through the country’s public hospitals and clinics say they are staring at a bleak future after learning that their contracts had been extended for just another two years, and without a pay raise.

Malay Mail was made to understand that the Ministry of Health (MoH) had announced the policy internally on March 16, a day before the government issued a movement control order (MCO) to contain the spread of Covid-19 as it expects the number of infections to spike.

Under the new policy, medical officers (MO) employed from December 2019 will continue to remain at grade UD41 despite the pledge by MoH last year that they would be promoted to UD43, a grade signifying contract status but with higher pay.

“Basically our renewed contract will still be UD41, which means same pay as house officer but few hundred less than our counterpart (MO) in the department,” said one officer who wished to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal.

In the past, a MO who has completed his or her housemanship is upgraded to UD44 with a basic pay hike of RM2,947 to RM3,611, to reflect the responsibility and workload.

UD41 medical officers also lose the RM600 flexi monthly allowance given to house officers — the annual salary differential between UD41 and UD43/44 officers is RM8,000, according to healthcare online magazine CodeBlue.

Several MOs have since taken to social media to lament the move, calling it demoralising. 

One officer Malay Mail spoke to said the policy made him feel unappreciated and exploited, especially since the policy was announced at a time when public healthcare is in critical need of their services.

“To be frank, it’s demoralising to us,” the medical officer said.

“Those who are called to assist in battling Covid-19 are these very contract officers. Two days ago, there’s even a quiet directive to some of us to report instantly by Monday or else we will not be continued,” he added. 

Medical personnel check the temperature of a visitor at the entrance of KPJ Tawakkal hospital in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Firdaus Latif
Medical personnel check the temperature of a visitor at the entrance of KPJ Tawakkal hospital in Kuala Lumpur. — Picture by Firdaus Latif

Critics of the policy also feel that the government timed the decision partly as a way to avoid public attention. 

The issue around contract work in public healthcare caused a political storm last year, prompting the previous Pakatan Harapan administration to pledge action and promote contract medical officers to UD43. 

Malay Mail was told that many have initially planned to strike against the ministry’s refusal to employ them full-time. But many are also against it, citing the heavy workload faced by their senior counterparts who are already working overtime amid the coronavirus crisis.

“Most of us didn’t agree because it will put a strain on our healthcare capacity and overwork our senior officers,” one MO said.

Putrajaya had said that the fight against Covid-19 is at a critical juncture, warning the country’s 30 million population of a possibility of the outbreak worsening should the authorities fail to flatten the infection curve.

Within the healthcare circle, there are already concerns that most public hospitals, underfunded, may not have the capacity to withstand a full-blown outbreak. 

Malaysia has over 900 cases in total confirmed as of yesterday, and is now the fourth-highest number of cases in Asia, behind China, Iran, and South Korea.