The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has expressed hopes that the Government will increase expenditure in the healthcare sector to meet the pressing needs of the citizens, voicing concerns that the cutback in the Health Ministry’s budget is adversely affecting the standards of patient care in the country.

“The ministry has to look at ways to improve efficiency to deal with budget cuts,” said MMA president Dr John Chew.

The 2016 Budget announced in January this year revealed that the health ministry faced a setback in budget allocation of RM269 million compared to the previous year.

However, Chew posited that the government should aim for 5% of gross domestic product (GDP) for expenditure in healthcare in the short-term, and up to 10% of the GDP by 2030.

At present, Malaysia spends 4.3% of its GDP on health, of which the public-private share is 55:45, he noted.

Low budget equals poor healthcare

“We hope this is a temporary problem,” said the MMA president, who added that the country is facing a triple-burden of newly emerging infections, non-communicable diseases and increase in pool of ageing population.

“There should be higher taxes for cigarettes, sugar and alcohol,” Chew posited, adding that preventive measures should target non-communicable diseases caused by health issues such as high smoking rates, obesity, diabetes and mental health.

“The other way is for the public to be more responsible for their own health,” he said while noting that many patients who were not compliant to their medications suffered from worsened health conditions and indirectly resulted in an increase in the Government’s medical spending.

According to Chew, the rising costs in healthcare have led many citizens to turn to government-based facilities to seek for care, resulting in longer queues and overcrowding.

“Currently, Malaysia has a ratio of 1.85 hospital beds to every 1,000 population, which is below the international standard ratio of 2.5:1,000,” he said, quoting Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya that Malaysia was also still short of 16,000 doctors.

Members of Parliament have previously voiced their concerns over the budget constraints that have caused a strain in the quality of healthcare provided following the unfortunate incident of a 62-year-old patient who was hurled off an ambulance stretcher twice earlier this year.

Hannah Yeoh, Member of Selangor State Assembly had said at the time that the health ministry should not face budget cuts, as adequate funds are necessary in order to carry out all needed services.

Claims of medicine shortages dismissed by Health DG

Despite the surfacing of recent reports quoting medical staff and patients, on the lack of medicines and provision of laboratory services in some hospitals due to insufficient funds, the director general of Health Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah has reassured citizens that "There is no shortage of medicines or supplements at public hospitals and clinics.”

According to Noor Hisham, the Health Ministry has seen an 8% increase in the number of patients seeking government-provided care from January to May this year, compared to the same period in the past year.

“This greater demand for our services has led to more complex challenges in managing our existing resources,” he said.

“Therefore, to ensure that crucial health services provision are not disrupted, the MOH is evaluating the extent of our financial shortcomings, and optimising and reallocating our limited resources to wherever it is needed the most.”

Chew has since suggested that the Health Ministry streamline the process of unnecessary blood tests and prevent wastage in giving out medications. MIMS

Read more:
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
Health Ministry budget cuts are the cause of poor medical care, say MPs
Is Malaysia spending enough to prevent a healthcare catastrophe in 20 years?