PETALING JAYA: The plight of contract doctors has been in the news for some time now, with stories of long hours, hard work and little prospects of growth or promotion for them.
More recently, some of them have decided to quit, even tendering 24-hour notices despite having to pay a penalty of one month’s wage in lieu.
FMT spoke to one of them, who told a tale of frustration, discrimination and poor conditions.
The story of this doctor, who refused to be named or have the gender revealed, could be a microcosm of the lives of the 23,000 medical officers who are facing the same predicament.
The doctor refused to be named for fear of repercussions as medical professionals are still at the mercy of the government, which issues them the annual practising certificate.
According to the MO, who has served as a houseman in East Malaysia, the choice of the subsequent posting was given to them and Kuala Lumpur was the first choice, being the doctor’s hometown.
“I was posted to a health clinic and, as the Covid-19 had just hit the nation, I was enthusiastic to serve the nation with all my best. I was sent to all Covid-19 related centres as a frontliner.
“It was indeed tiring as we had to put in long hours in the very uncomfortable PPEs. But I noticed that it was the contract doctors, especially those who are single, who are always assigned to these centres. There were seniors and super seniors who just sat in the office with some of them even doing their own private business,” the doctor said.
The frustrated junior doctor continued working hard despite knowing that the permanent counterparts were being paid much more for doing the same job – or less – adding that the future continued to remain uncertain under the contract system.
“I feel we were at their mercy as they know that we, being contract officers, will follow orders without questions because of fear.”
Most frustrating to this MO and friends was that none of their bosses could tell them the exact criteria used to recommend them to be placed in the permanent scheme.
“Throughout our time there, managing Covid-19 became our only job and there was no assessment, written or oral, to evaluate our performances which is vital for being considered for permanent positions.
“We were told about 800 of the 23,000 contract doctors have been offered permanent positions.
“When we asked what the criteria was for permanent positions and whether we could apply, no one could give us an answer. The frustration was building and even the director-general was not telling us anything.”
The doctor said plans to buy a house also hit a brick wall as the banks refused loans for those on contract, with the government saying they were not eligible for loans from the housing loan division. However, with some help from parents, the doctor managed to buy one.
Realising that the contract may not be renewed in July next year, and the housing and car loans need to be serviced, the doctor began to look at the options available.
“We were also not able to sign up for a Master’s programme as we were contract officers. So I waited for the July 14 Cabinet meeting which was supposed to have made a decision on the future of contract doctors. We were all very hopeful after the matter was announced by Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin.
“I waited for about five days after that for some good news. When nothing came about, I submitted my 24-hour resignation letter even though I had to pay a month’s salary in lieu,” the doctor said.
The doctor has now found permanent employment in the private sector which pays twice as much as the government service but said it was not the money that was the lure – instead it was the push factor, like frustration with the system, uncertainty and other prejudices that drive many out of the government service.
Asked if it was the wrong thing to do, as sacrifice was still needed with the Covid-19 pandemic still raging, the doctor said many contract officers have made huge sacrifices and they have to consider their future as well.
“I really hope the government will do more by being transparent in the criteria for selection of permanent officers, and allow contract doctors to do their Masters so that most of them will have a purpose in wanting to remain with the government.”
By : K. Parkaran – FMT