Doctors can't be pandering to ministry bureaucracy

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I run a cardiology clinic in Penang. I received a letter from the Health Ministry directing me to attend a meeting at the General Hospital on Tuesday, Oct 20 from 8.30am to 11.45am.

The meeting is to discuss a survey the ministry intends to carry out, and doctors from 211 private clinics have been asked to the meeting.

1. In order to attend the meeting, I would have to close my clinic and deny patients their access to my service on the morning of Oct 20. Morally, professionally and ethically, doctors have been told to always put patients first, turning them away or postponing appointments as little as possible.

Closing a clinic and refusing to see sick patients in order to attend a meeting goes against my conscience and training. Perhaps the ministry can schedule the meeting after office hours or on weekends, when less patients and doctors would be inconvenienced.

2. The letter states that under the Private Healthcare Act, all doctors must provide whatever information asked by the director-general of health. When the Healthcare Act was discussed, we were reassured that it was meant to weed out unregistered and untrained personnel masquerading as doctors.

We now see that the act has been used to justify disruptive visits to measure clinic doors and toilets, and now to threaten doctors into attending meetings held during normal clinic hours.

In fact, the Healthcare Act does not force a doctor to attend bureaucratic meetings at the expense of patient-centered clinical service.

3. The letter calling for the meeting came with a reply slip to be returned by Sept 29. I received my letter on Oct 5, in an envelope postmarked Oct 1.

Obviously officers at the Health Ministry have too much work on their hands and are unable to meet their own deadlines.

Unless the ministry streamlines its workload and improves its efficiency, I fear meetings will be fruitless, data collected from surveys will not be properly reviewed and will not lead to any improvement in the health of our patients.

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