Contract doctors staged their nationwide “Hartal Doktor Kontrak” protest recently to express their collective dissatisfaction over the present terms of their temporary employment.
Very much at the end of their tether, these exhausted doctors took the last resort to mount a hartal to tell the government in no uncertain terms that their plight as contract workers has to be tackled urgently and that a comprehensive long-term solution has to be sought.
No half-baked solution, as they rightly put it – which explains why many of them soldiered on to strike in defiance of the authorities’ warning and immense intimidation and even at the expense of the goodwill of certain quarters of the population.
The cautionary advice by health director general Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah that these doctors should heed the dictum, primum non nocere (first, do no harm) to patients, seemed to be way over the top, especially when the doctors had promised to take due precautions so that their patients would not be left in the lurch during the protest. In particular, the arrangement during the protest was that permanent doctors would attend to patients under the care of the striking doctors, and the contract doctors would hurry back to the wards if their assistance was urgently needed.
So, this does not appear to be an irresponsible act of these doctors. In fact, this is not really a strike in the true sense of the word, because a strike is meant to disrupt what is considered normal. In other words, the hartal reportedly was not planned in a way that would throw the entire public healthcare system into chaos, as some would want us to believe.
This hartal should be seen as a means to alert the government and the public that the contract doctors have been treated unfairly over the years, and yet are expected to work as hard as, if not more than, the permanent doctors. Besides, shouldn’t contract doctors, like any other citizens of this country, have the right to express themselves publicly as enshrined in the Federal Constitution?
We should be mindful that many of these doctors work under unsatisfactory or deplorable conditions while having to attend to a surge of patients with limited healthcare facilities. In many ways, this hartal is also to raise a red flag about the shortage of beds, oxygen supplies and other vital healthcare equipment. The protest is to see to it that our healthcare system is well equipped and run in the long term.
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As intimated above, the pandemic has clearly shown that contract doctors have worked tirelessly to save the lives of others – and at times put their equally precious lives on the line. Surely, this is a Hippocratic Oath well kept.
Issuing stern warnings and exercising various forms of intimidation to these contract doctors is not exactly a nice way for the authorities to show appreciation for their sterling work, especially during the pandemic.
These doctors are generally not self-serving professionals who seek grossly fat pay cheques and other perks, unlike some politicians in our midst. They want certainty in their career path and justice. Is that too much to ask? Like any other professional and worker, job security and fair terms of employment are vital not only for the doctors but also their families and loved ones.
The government should invest more money in our healthcare system to ensure its sustainability in the long run, especially in terms of an adequate supply of medical officers. This should be one of its priorities.
A band aid in the form of extended contracts for these doctors is not what is needed as a remedy to what ails our public healthcare system.
Whether it is through hartal or other forms of public expression, injustice must be called out. – The Malaysian Insight