After ventilator fiasco, Putrajaya urged to give Sarawak healthcare autonomy

SIBU, April 21 — Senator Robert Lau has urged Putrajaya to return healthcare autonomy to Sarawak following the debacle over the Health Ministry’s (MoH) delivery of inoperational used ventilators to aid hospitals in the state in the war against Covid-19.

He said this must include the fair distribution of the federal annual budget to cater for the whole healthcare operation in Sarawak, reiterating a call he had made twice in his debate on the national budget in the Senate.

“Looking ahead, I believe the only way for a fairer relationship between Sarawak and the Federal government is for full autonomy over healthcare to be returned to Sarawak,” he said in a statement.

He asserted that the Ministry of Health’s action of sending obsolete and non-working ventilators to Sibu was unacceptable.

“In the eyes of the people of Sarawak, it reflects very badly on how the Federal Ministry treats Sarawak. The explanation why obsolete machines were sent instead of new ones is not credible. If it is so fragile, why bother sending at all?,” he said.

Following Bukit Assek assemblywoman Irene Chang’s revelation that eight of 10 ventilators sent to Sarawak last week were inoperational, MoH had carried out an investigation and concluded that the machines could have been damaged while being transported to health facilities in Sarawak.

It said in a statement yesterday that the machines, which had been used at Sungai Buloh Hospitals, had been tested before they were delivered and they were in good condition. MoH has promised to send 11 replacement ventilators.

Inspite of MoH’s explanation, Lau insisted that an investigation be carried out for a clear explanation on what had happened.

“This is to clear the air as people in Sarawak feel shortchanged. This is necessary in order to regain trust in the system or else the suspicion is that Sarawak is being treated as second class Malaysians.”

Lau said the ministry should also disclose how many ventilators had been purchased since the start of the pandemic and where they were distributed, including how many were sent to Sarawak.

He pointed out that hospitals in Sarawak, particularly in the Rajang Basin, were lacking in facilities.

“Sibu hospitals are running low on equipment and have to resort to borrowing from private hospitals. The pandemic has revealed the ugly truth of the serious lack of investments and the low priorities of the hospitals here as compared to Malaya,” he said.

“As an example, 10 ventilators in Sibu hospitals before the pandemic times were already more than 10 years old and have been written off with zero value. This means they are obsolete and should not be repaired if broken and to be replaced with new ones. Sadly, yearly requests for new replacements never came.”

Lau said Sibu had been very fortunate that its people had stepped up and donated medical equipment over the last one year to the Sibu Hospital, adding that even the two units of Covid-19 PCR testing machines were donated by private companies.

He also said the state government had recently bought three new ventilators for Sibu Hospital and the private sector had donated another one to Sibu Hospital as well as Kapit Hospital.

“Why must we continue to buy our own equipment when we also pay tax to the federal government? Is this not an unfair penalty that Sarawakians have to pay?,” he said, adding that the Finance Ministry should give full tax relief to the donors of medical equipment for public hospitals in the state. — Borneo Post

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