In efforts to curb the spike in motor vehicle accidents amongst healthcare professionals, Health Ministry director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah had words of advice for the fatigued. He took to Facebook to remind motorists not to drive if they feel tired or sleepy – to prevent road accidents.

“Do not begin a drive if you are fatigued or deprived of sleep. Being fatigued significantly increases the risk of a crash. It makes us less aware of what's happening on the road and impairs our ability to respond quickly and safely if a dangerous situation arises,” he wrote.

Meeting to address this pressing issue

Government bodies and numerous medical associations met last week in response to concerns raised about this issue on 13 May by a group of medical NGOs. Dr Munawwar Salim – a representative of the Islamic Medical Association of Malaysia (Imam) – relayed that they agreed during the meeting that accidents among healthcare workers, which have occasionally been fatal, should be regarded as an increasing problem in Malaysia.

“A collective effort is needed to prevent more losses of doctors’ or other health workers’ lives, who are vital members and contributors to the health of the community. It is envisaged that the various plan of actions would also benefit all members of our Malaysian society who similarly work long after-office hours,” added Salim.

Salim also said that a local study investigating the correlation between doctors’ working hours and the number of accidents that have occurred was necessary. This will involve collaborative efforts between the Malaysian Institute of Road Safety Research (Miros), the Road Transport Department (JPJ) and medical NGOs.

“It is hoped that together with other evidence it would provide the basis for a revision of current laws and regulations pertaining to safe working hours for doctors,” he said.

In addition to that, Salim spoke about starting a campaign to raise awareness about driving safety for healthcare professionals. “Among the components of this campaign are defensive driving workshops, talks on road safety, engaging employers about the issue of safe working hours and promoting alternative transportation methods to be used during post-call or after shifts,” he said.

Implement measures to prevent further deaths

Many cases on road accidents involving healthcare personnel have been in the public eye over recent years. For example, Dr Nurul Huda Ahmad, a paediatrician in training was involved in an accident in Kuala Terengganu on 9 May after a nearly 33-hour shift. Two years ago, anaesthesiologist Dr Afifah Mohd Ghazi, 27, got into a fatal car accident in Sungai Buloh on her way back home from work at the Sungai Buloh Hospital.

A survey conducted by MIMS early this year noted that 133 out of 298 healthcare providers in Malaysia and Singapore – including doctors, nurses, pharmacists and other allied health professionals – confessed to have fallen asleep while driving after a long day at work. Out of these, 97 more admitted to have dozed off on multiple occasions.

Countries such as Australia and Britain ensure doctors who work on call from 5pm to 8am get the rest of the day off after. Salim acknowledged that Europe has a limit on doctors’ working hours. He said in Malaysia, the average hours were 8am to 5pm but sometimes, doctors had to be on call and the hours could stretch from 8am to 5pm the following day.

“There is a circular that states that they are allowed to get a day off after an on-call shift but it is up to the discretion of the head of department,” he said. MIMS

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