KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 — Malaysia currently has 459 psychiatrists, and would ideally need to add 261 such specialists in four more years amid sharper focus on people’s mental health and wellbeing.
Based on the Health Ministry’s latest publicly available data, Malay Mail calculated that the country would need an additional 493 psychiatrists by 2030 to cater to the country’s projected population then.
Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin had said these targeted numbers are based on targets for the ratio of the size of population that a doctor would ideally be serving.
In a written parliamentary reply on November 29, the health minister said there are 459 psychiatrists nationwide, namely 256 at the Health Ministry’s facilities, and 203 at the facilities of the Defence Ministry, Higher Education Ministry and the private sector.
“The Health Ministry targets a ratio of one doctor to every 50,000 population in 2025, and by 2030, this ratio is increased to one doctor for every 30,000 population.
“The projection of the need for psychiatrists according to the ratio of one psychiatrist to 50,000 of Malaysia’s population is 720 persons in 2025, and 952 in 2030, and this need would be reviewed from time to time, based on the need for services,” he said.
To achieve the targeted figures for the number of psychiatrists in Malaysia, the Health Ministry said it was continuously working to increase these figures, including by re-appointing retired Malaysian psychiatrists on a contract basis to serve with the ministry on a needs basis.
Another measure is the increase of the slots for Hadiah Latihan Persekutuan (HLP) sponsorship for doctors to undergo specialist training under the Program Latihan Kepakaran Sarjana Perubatan for the psychiatry field from 46 slots in 2015 to 57 slots in 2021.
The Health Ministry also said it had increased the HLP sponsorship or scholarship slots for the Sub-speciality Training Programme in the psychiatry field from two slots in 2016, to 13 slots in 2021.
As part of efforts to increase the number of psychiatrists in Malaysia, the ministry said medical officers can also undergo the Parallel Pathway for training to be specialists using qualifications from abroad such as the Member of the Royal College of Psychiatrists (MRCPsych).
The minister was replying to Beruas MP Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham who asked for the ideal numbers of certified counsellors, psychologists and psychiatrists required for Malaysia’s population size, and the steps that the government would be taking to achieve those numbers.
Recently, contract doctors in Malaysia said they have been denied the chance to apply for HLP scholarships that will enable them to become specialists. Such opportunities are apparently only available to their peers with permanent positions with the Health Ministry.
But in September, Khairy was reported telling the Dewan Rakyat that the government is looking into opening up HLP applications to contract doctors as well.
In response to Ngeh, the health minister also said for clinical psychologists, there are 66 in Malaysia, with 58 of them in government hospitals and eight in private health facilities.
The minister said there are now 9,580 certified counsellors registered with the Malaysian Board of Counsellors and serving in both the public and private sector, with 346 of them serving as counselling officers at the Health Ministry’s facilities.
The ministry said it had taken preliminary steps to fulfill Malaysians’ needs for mental health services, by buying the services of 200 counsellors on a one-year contract from August 2020 to August 2, 2021 and to be placed at district health offices nationwide.
These 200 counsellors were placed in 138 district health offices to offer scheduled services at 831 health clinics nationwide, with the Finance Ministry on March 25, 2021 agreeing to extend their contract by another year with the extension period being August 3, 2021 to August 2, 2022.
The Health Ministry said a total of 111,150 patients at health clinics nationwide had received psychological and counselling services from these contract officers face to face and online during the October 2020 to May 31, 2021 period.
MoH welcomes more insurance policies for mental health
Pulai MP Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub on November 29 asked the health minister whether the government was prepared to propose an insurance policy specifically for mental health patients’ medical cost, in view of the high medical cost and cost for counselling for mental illness.
Khairy replied in writing that the Health Ministry recognises the importance of insurance policies for mental health patients for counselling and treatment, due to higher cost for such services in private facilities and as patients in the low-income B40 group may face difficulties to cover such costs.
The minister also said there are now three insurance companies offering insurance policies with benefits and protection for mental illness, namely AIA Bhd, Etiqa Life and Prudential BSN.
AIA Bhd provides coverage of up to RM1,500 per year for psychiatric consultation fees, while Etiqa provides coverage for mental illness that has been diagnosed by psychiatrists such as bipolar affective disorder, major depressive disorder, schizophrenia or schizoaffective disorder, the ministry said.
Another insurance firm Prudential BSN offers coverage for outpatient psychiatric consultations, treatment and medication for mental illnesses such as depressive disorder, anxiety disorder, bipolar and schizophrenia, the ministry said.
“The Health Ministry welcomes the proposal and supports efforts for more insurance companies to offer insurance policies for mental health patients, especially to expand the scope of services in line with the Health Ministry’s outlook,” it said in the reply.
Besides that, the ministry said the government is also carrying out initiatives to ensure access for mental health interventions and treatments under government health facilities via the National Strategic Plan for Mental Health (2020-2025), which is driven by public health approaches with initiatives such as promoting mental health to all of society.
Also included in the initiatives are ensuring the provision and access to comprehensive and quality mental health services, strengthening the preparedness of mental health services during crises and disasters, and increasing collaborative efforts between agencies.