Malaysians have been kept on their toes prior to the announcement of Budget 2017 on Friday – especially with the recent talk on suspension of clinical laboratory tests and shortages of medicine supply in local hospitals due to lack of funds.

While the Director-General of Health, Datuk Dr Noor Hisham has reassured the public that there have not been any insufficiency in supply of pharmaceutical drugs, many citizens, healthcare professionals and ministers alike have voiced their concerns over the government’s budget allocation in healthcare.

Further budget cuts detrimental to healthcare for Rakyat

“We would want an additional budget, but if we don't get it, at least maintain the figure,” said Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya. “We can't afford any budget cut right now. What we have at the moment is just enough,” he stressed, adding that further allocation cuts would be challenging to adequately serve the public.

This January’s Budget revision revealed a reduction from RM23.31 billion in 2015 to RM23.03 billion in 2016, amounting to a cut of RM300 million.

Ramesh Singh, a relative of a patient receiving treatment from Selayang Hospital, also reported that they had to deliver blood test samples by hand to a private laboratory, who charged them RM 136.60 for the service.

“In the past two years of seeking treatment there, we had no issues. All of a sudden we have to take samples to the lab ourselves. What is going on?” he lamented, also pointing out that the hospital was unable to provide necessary medication, leaving them no choice but to purchase the drugs from other pharmacies.

“Selayang Hospital also did not have chemical reagents to run creatinine blood test in the end of September,” said Opposition MP Teo Nie Ching, adding that some public clinics have ceased screening pregnant women for Hepatitis B for similar reasons.

“Many of our people cannot afford private healthcare,” she added.

"There is nowhere in the world people can pay RM1 for treatment. So we are finding it hard to sustain,” said Hilmi. “But we will continue to try.”

Budget allocation in Malaysian healthcare insufficient - Fact or fiction?

Despite these allegations, Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam stood firm that government health facilities are not facing a shortage of funds to provide medical tests on patients, adding that such incidents were rare.

“It is true that hospitals have to work around these budget constraints. They have to manage medication, tests, and infrastructure with the same budget,” he said.

“In that time, they may be unable to offer specialized tests such as cancer marker tests or other types which are not the basic set of test but we try to minimise this,” he added, reassuring the public that basic services would always be provided by government institutes.

In difficult times, should ministers also face pay cut?

According to Hilmi, cost-cutting measures have been implemented by the ministry, including making a switch from branded drugs to generic drugs, which are “equally good and much cheaper” to cut costs.

“We try to change (more medicines) to generic. That's how we try to save money while at the same time giving the best service to the people," he was quoted saying, adding that RM2 billion was spent on medicines alone this year.

“The ministry is also looking at purchasing medical equipment through a lease-rental agreement which will result in more money being saved,” Hilmi said, explaining that many of the medical equipment in government facilities are old and due for replacement or refurbishment.

However, economist Dr Muhammed Abdul Khalid has suggested for cabinet ministers to agree with having their salaries and allowances reduced as a gesture of solidarity with the public who are facing high costs of living due to the current economic climate.

“Most of the (spending) has been cut. The only thing we have not seen, is the cut for the salaries for ministers,” he said, adding that spending should never be cut on productive sectors such as education and health.

“You feel the pain, you share the pain,” he added. MIMS

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MMA concerned over quality of Malaysian healthcare due to budget cuts
Health Ministry responds to concerns over closing of laboratory tests in Malaysia due to lack of funds
Lack of funds leads to suspension of clinical laboratory tests in Malaysian hospitals