Malaysian authorities have recently issued a warning stating that locum doctors are not allowed to work in any private hospital or clinic in the country, if they do not possess a medical practitioner certificate.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam said if uncertified locums refused to abide by the rule, they risk arrest under Criminal Procedure Code for offering medical services illegally.

A locum doctor is a person who temporarily fulfils the duties of another doctor especially when the doctor is absent or when a hospital or practice is short-staffed.

"Students are not recognised by the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) and the act can be considered a crime for impersonation while the degree is not a license to treat patients.

"For example, if a post-graduate medical student who is not certified, injected a patient who later makes a police report, the ministry will investigate the background of the doctor.

“When he finds that the doctor is not certified by the MMC as a medical practitioner, then criminal action can be taken and there is a possibility they will not be certified as medical practitioners,” he said.

Complaints from the public against locums in clinics and private hospitals

According to a press statement in 2015, following the 341st meeting of the MMC, concerns regarding locum doctors being employed in clinics and private hospitals were raised.

There have been many complaints from the public between 2012 and 2015, whereby seven medical practitioners were brought before the MMC for employing unregistered or unqualified persons to work as part-time doctors.

Four of the medical practitioners were found guilty, of which three were reprimanded while one practitioner was suspended for six months.

All these persons were unregistered and either did not possess medical qualifications or possess a medical qualification but were not eligible for registration with the Council.

Besides that, there have been other situations in which owners or persons in charge of the clinics are duped into believing that a locum was registered after they were shown forged documents including registration and annual practicing certificates (APC).

In these instances, the punishment would fall on the doctor or person in charge of the clinic for employing a non-qualified and unregistered medical practitioner, knowingly or unknowingly.

As such, the Director General of Health and President of the MMC, Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah urged all doctors and persons in charge to review potential candidates to avoid charges for violating the provisions in the Code of Professional Conduct and the Medical Act 1971.

Uncertified locums threaten the safety of patients

Dr. Subramaniam said while many uncertified locum doctors may justify their actions with the reasoning that they have to work to keep the knowledge intact, this was not acceptable as they could read books, go online or attend medical courses.

“Medical students cannot treat patients and can only observe trained doctors at work. Working part time and being paid for it is wrong and against the law," he said.

Allowing medical students to treat patients could also threaten the health and safety of patients.

Dr Subramaniam added that the ministry hopes to reduce the waiting period for trainee doctors in government hospitals by the end of this year.

“The waiting period will be reduced from the current six to nine months to four to five months if the ministry’s proposal is accepted by the Public Service Department (PSD)," he said. MIMS