In open letter, organiser of looming strike says contract doctors have ‘no ray of hope’ unlike permanent peers

Compared to doctors with permanent positions with the Health Ministry, the young doctor said contract doctors are not only deprived of study leave, but are also not given maternity leave for mothers to breastfeed their newborns, and a special service leave for those working in the radiology department. — AFP pic
Compared to doctors with permanent positions with the Health Ministry, the young doctor said contract doctors are not only deprived of study leave, but are also not given maternity leave for mothers to breastfeed their newborns, and a special service leave for those working in the radiology department. — AFP pic

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KUALA LUMPUR, June 28 — Doctors working on a contract basis with the Health Ministry are not seeking to mount a political fight with the planned “hartal” or strike on July 26, but are simply desperate for job security and help as their pathways to become specialists are virtually cut off, a young doctor explained today.

On the HartalDoktorKontrak Twitter account today, a letter by an anonymous young contract doctor explained the plight of doctors like him and why they have to resort to launching a “hartal” after years of fruitless waiting for the federal government to provide solutions.

The doctor said the first cohort of the Ministry of Health’s contract appointments for graduates to be medical officers started in December 2016, and noted that the health minister had on June 23 said 23,077 of such contract doctors have been appointed.

The young doctor said, however, that only 3.41 per cent of the 23,077 contract doctors have been given permanent positions.

Doctors cannot progress in their careers to become specialists based on the length of their service, but must either study for their Masters or sit for a collegiate examination such as MRCS, MRCP, and MRCph, the letter explained.

Both pathways to gain qualifications to become a specialist are not feasible if one is a contract doctor, the letter indicated.

“With this system of contract appointments, there is no ray of hope for us to continue our struggle in the desired field. If the collegiate examination is taken, how is one to work as a specialist if we are only offered work as medical officers.

“If we who work in the surgical department which requires the ‘masters’ programme, how are we supposed to enter it, if hadiah lantikan perkhidmatan (scholarship) is only for permanent appointees. 

“Become private students? We contract appointees are not eligible to apply for study leave. There is only one way, which is to resign from the Health Ministry and find other work while studying. While bearing study costs of RM250,000 for four years,” the doctor explained in the letter, pointing out that not all doctors come from families who can afford such costs and that they too have other commitments and wives and children to support financially.

Compared to doctors with permanent positions with the Health Ministry, the young doctor said contract doctors are not only deprived of study leave, but are also not given maternity leave for mothers to breastfeed their newborns, and a special service leave for those working in the radiology department.

“The tasks that we bear are the same, the portfolio in the department is the same, but there are differences for the pay grade and ranking,” the doctor said.

Amid lesser pay and benefits for the same workload, the young doctor said however that contract doctors have no problems with their seniors who are very helpful, and noted that specialists are also very willing to share their experience and expertise but lamented that this may go nowhere under the current situation for contract doctors.

The doctor highlighted the lack of job security for contract doctors, pointing out as an example: “For me whose contract appointment only has one more year left, what may I possibly encounter after the training period is over?”

The young doctor indicated that two years of the doctors’ personal efforts and achievements will go to waste if there are new contract appointments, asking: “What would my fate be, ladies and gentlemen? Do I have to go overseas to earn a living? Do I need to leave my motherland?”

After explaining all the challenges faced by contract doctors, the young doctor concluded by saying that the “hartal” movement is not political in nature, saying that contract doctors respect the Federal Constitution and the principles of this democratic country and were not seeking to harm the country’s harmony.

“But after the country changed governments three times, and the health minister changed for three times, this matter is still nowhere,” the doctor said, adding that contract doctors need answers and tangible outcomes.

While saying that young doctors embrace the Health Ministry’s slogan “Kami Sedia Membantu” (We are ready to help), the doctor said contract doctors are however at a dead end and need the help and support of the country’s leaders to get out of this problem, just as the doctors themselves have provided help when help was needed.

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