The Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Malaysian Human Rights Commission (SUHAKAM) are working on the details to set up a Custodial Medical Unit (CMU), aimed at providing round-the-clock healthcare services – to bring down the number of custodial deaths.

According to Deputy Health Director-General Datuk Dr S. Jeyaindran, the CMU will eventually be extended to smaller lockups throughout the country, including the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) lockups and immigration detention centres. However, he did not specify an implementation date as the proposal is still under discussion.

The main idea for the CMU is for each detainee to be checked and verified by a doctor before they are processed and sent into lockups, highlighted SUHAKAM commissioner Jerald Joseph.

Detainees deserve the most basic of human rights: healthcare

Dr Jeyaindran said the CMU will be responsible for all medical aspects relating to detainees, starting from basic sanitation, food, common medical conditions, including cases of custodial death.

“Under the law, a detainee must be medically examined when brought in and before they are released. But, this is only practised in prisons as there is a resident doctor on duty there, while at other detention facilities, it is only done on a need basis,” he explained.

Doctors will be the best in identifying medical symptoms when a detainee is brought in or when they complain to be unwell in custody. They can best decide if the detainee needs treatment at the hospital after discussion with the respective custodial officers, he added.

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SUHAKAM commissioner, Jerald Joseph, visited the Ayer Molek police lockup in Johor Bahru last year. Photo credit: SUHAKAM/Malay Mail Online
SUHAKAM commissioner, Jerald Joseph, visited the Ayer Molek police lockup in Johor Bahru last year. Photo credit: SUHAKAM/Malay Mail Online

Jerald said that many detainees who are brought to lockups already have pre-existing illnesses. And, if these ailments are detected before they are kept in police custody, it would help in the management of unwell patients and spread of infectious diseases.

“This is specifically aimed at those who are under remand. When there are plans to get a remand order for the suspect, the first thing to do is to see the doctor,” echoed Jerald.

"Overcrowding, inadequate access to healthcare services, poor nutrition, hygiene and sanitation are not only violations of human rights – rather, these conditions increase the risk of the spread of diseases such as tuberculosis within the lockup," emphasised SUHAKAM chairman, Tan Sri Razali Ismail, based on his visit to the Ayer Molek Police lockup in Johor Bahru last year.

Previously, there have been cases of police officers stationed at the lockups who had contracted tuberculosis from sick detainees.

Concerns around the set-up of CMU

The Home Ministry was concerned about how much a specialised unit would cost taxpayers, and may reach out to volunteer organisations to provide medical care for the detainees, even as plans for the CMU are being put in place.

“A cost-effective proposal is for a group of doctors under the umbrella of an NGO providing the service based on request by the police,” said Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, who is also the Deputy Prime Minister.

Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi raised concerns of the cost involved in setting up a CMU, including the possibility that the MOH can be further understaffed. Photo credit: Bernama/Malay Mail Online
Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi raised concerns of the cost involved in setting up a CMU, including the possibility that the MOH can be further understaffed. Photo credit: Bernama/Malay Mail Online

Another concern raised was whether the MOH could cope with the personnel demands of the new unit and whether it will be effective to have doctors based in lockups.

“The Health Ministry is already facing a shortage of doctors. Designating a team to lockups might not be a feasible idea, but we are not rejecting the idea,” said Zahid.

Assuring the relevant parties, Dr Jeyaindran said, “We are looking at the existing manpower and those who can be reallocated to CMU, and from there, we will decide how many more personnel we require.”

Zahid asserted that the ministry will be working closely with the Public Service Department (JPA) to look into the logistics, roster, legalities, allowance and the safety of the medical officers who will be on duty. MIMS


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Sources:
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/moh-custodial-medical-unit-to-eventually-be-extended-to-smaller-lockups-imm#abkqDzoAYVCRAsxF.97
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/suhakam-moh-to-place-doctors-at-centralised-lockups-in-bid-to-reduce-custod#geAAreTzwKOfkLcJ.97
http://www.themalaymailonline.com/malaysia/article/home-ministry-may-enlist-ngos-to-help-with-healthcare-for-detainees#f3sYkuMtB5FAHY5s.97
https://www.nst.com.my/news/nation/2017/08/268572/ayer-molek-police-lock-deplorable-suhakam-calls-review