Tap underused private healthcare for Covid-19 fight, medical group tells government

Healthcare workers prepare to carry out Covid-19 screening for those with a recent travel history to Sabah at Selcare Clinic in Shah Alam October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Healthcare workers prepare to carry out Covid-19 screening for those with a recent travel history to Sabah at Selcare Clinic in Shah Alam October 4, 2020. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 20 — The Malaysian Medical Association said today the healthcare sector could fall into crisis without government help as movement curbs and the pandemic has driven down revenue and forced operators towards closure and layoffs.

Private clinics and hospitals have seen significantly lower patient traffic since March, MMA president Datuk Dr Subramaniam Muniandy said, citing the lockdown as a major factor.

“The private healthcare sector since March had been generally on the downward trend with numbers of patients attending contracting significantly,” he said in a statement.

“Among the various reasons were the lockdown rules had made patients delay their health check-ups while others were trying to avoid attending clinics or hospitals out of fear of contracting Covid-19,” he added.

The MMA said private clinics and hospitals nationwide were reporting reduced patient attendance, some by as much as 70 to 80 per cent, affecting their income significantly.

Many now said they could shut down, Dr Subramaniam said.

“Many senior doctors with their wealth of experience are also contemplating closing or retirement. It is estimated that around 200 clinics nationwide will close by year end,” he said.

Private practitioners in Sabah, the pandemic’s current epicentre, were hit especially hard, MMA said citing a survey held by its state chapter.

MMA said 70 per cent of private GPs and specialists reported patient traffic reduction of over half or more between the lockdown in March and the current conditional movement control, which started in October and now extended to early December.

Another 32 per cent reported the need to close clinics temporarily for various reasons, with one of the main reasons being the need to quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure, according to the group’s survey.

“If the current situation continues in Sabah, 17 per cent of practices estimated they will not be sustainable in the next 3 months and another 33 per cent for the next 6 months,” MMA said.

Only a fourth of respondents said they can sustain their businesses for up to 12 months or more.

The survey polled 209 private doctors, with 68 per cent being GPs and 32 per cent specialists. 79 per cent of the doctors surveyed were practicing in urban areas.

MMA said the government could delegate some of its Covid-19 treatment to the private sector as a solution.

“Private healthcare, an important component in our country’s overall healthcare system can be an added strength in managing Covid-19 but is still underutilised,” Dr Subramaniam said.

“It is time we ease the strain put on our public healthcare and look into the combined strength of public and private healthcare to enhance efforts in the country’s management of Covid-19,” he added.

The group said the collaboration would benefit the public.

Putrajaya raised next year’s healthcare budget to RM31.9 billion although critics noted it was only a 4.3 increase compared to the 2020 allocation.

MMA warned that a collapsing private healthcare sector could drive public spending up as more patients move to already crowded government facilities.

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