SIBU, June 12 — The projection by the Health Ministry (MoH) of an oversupply of medical officers starting from 2026 to 2030 does not augur well for the betterment of healthcare services in the country, especially for rural parts of Sarawak.

In stating this, Deputy Minister for Education, Innovation and Talent Development Datuk Dr Annuar Rapaee said MoH ought to carry out a review of its projection which should take into consideration the demand for healthcare services, more so with Malaysia on its way to becoming an ageing society.

“Have they (MoH) taken the figures of doctor distribution in the country especially for Sarawak? If they only take the total number by population, that is not fair. Because if you take the ratio of one doctor to a population, or based on that, and say it is oversupply, then it is not fair.

“In Sarawak, there is such a significant different between urban and rural areas in terms of the doctor ratio. There are certain towns where the doctor distribution is one doctor to a population of 600, or one to 800, and even areas with one doctor to a population of 1,200 or even 2,000.

“There are a lot more clinics in Sarawak without doctors,” he told The Borneo Post yesterday.

The cardiologist-turned-politician was reacting to an article by health portal CodeBlue, which reported that the Public Service Department (JPA) had dropped scholarships in medicine this year because of projections of an oversupply of medical officers in fewer than five years.

The report quoted Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Armizan Mohd Ali as citing the MoH’s ‘Supply and Needs-Based Requirement Projections of Malaysia Human Resources for Health Using System Dynamics Approach 2016-2030’ that projected an oversupply of medical officers, starting from 2026 to 2030.

The MoH study was published in 2019, before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020.

The article further reported that the 1,354 contract medical officers who quit Malaysia’s public health service in 2022 alone exceeded the 1,279 resignations in the two previous pandemic years combined, according to MoH figures shared last February.

Armizan also quoted as saying that the supply of medical officers was recorded at 72,812 people in 2021, exceeding demand for 70,721 medical officers at the height of the country’s Covid-19 epidemic by about three per cent, or 2,091 people.

On this, Dr Annuar said the MoH should base its projection on the reality of the situation and not on figures alone.

“Furthermore, we have an ageing population and naturally, the demand for healthcare services will climb and this too should be taken into account when doing the projection, as nobody knows when the next pandemic will strike,” he said.

On JPA’s decision to drop scholarships in medicine this year, Dr Annuar said this will deprive those from poor backgrounds from taking up medicine.

“If we wish to see more poor students take up medicine to improve their livelihood and standard of living as well as to serve the country well, this ruling does not augur well because it will further widen the gap between the rich and poor.

“Stopping the scholarships will remarkably reduce the number of students taking up medicine and this will not address the issue in Sarawak, where there are many rural clinics still without medical doctors.”

In contrast, Dr Annuar pointed out that state government under Premier Datuk Patinggi Tan Sri Abang Johari Tun Openg continues to provide scholarships for eligible students keen to do medicine.

“The state government gives out scholarships to 40 students each year to do medicine. So far, till today, it has benefitted 200 students already. Next five years, another 200 students (to benefit) — totaling 400 students for (the next) 10 years.

“By 2032, we (Sarawak) are going to produce 400 medical graduates. The first cohort will be going to do housemanship this year. These are Sarawak government-sponsored medical student in Unimas (Univerisiti Malaysia Sarawak).”

Towards this end, Dr Annuar opined that JPA should stop sending students overseas to study medicine as there are more than 30 medical schools in the country, and also in view that the depreciating ringgit has made it costlier to send students to study overseas.

“The funds should be reserved for postgraduate specialist skill training. This is more meaningful,” he said.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim at an event at Universiti Sains Malaysia in Penang yesterday assured that JPA will continue to offer scholarships for students pursuing studies in medicine, dentistry and pharmacy.

He said he had held a special meeting with JPA last week and was told that the stopping of scholarships was a “previous policy”.

“So, I asked for this to be reviewed (because) based on our projections, the need for medical, dental and pharmacy sectors is still there.

“This means that the JPA scholarship programme for these sectors will continue,” said Anwar.

Earlier yesterday, Health Minister Dr Zaliha Mustafa said the MoE was also prepared to review its 2019 study which projected an oversupply of medical officers from 2026 to 2030. — Borneo Post Online