The Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) has called on the government to incorporate private healthcare in its fight against Covid-19, saying that the sector's capabilities are being underutilised.
"Our government healthcare facilities should not be taking on this battle all on its own. Private healthcare, an important component in our country’s overall healthcare system, can be an added strength in managing Covid-19 but is still underutilised.
“It is time we ease the strain put on our public healthcare and look into the combined strength of public and private healthcare to enhance efforts in the country’s management of Covid-19 as well as other healthcare needs,” said MMA president Dr Subramaniam Muniandy in a statement.
He said many clinics and hospitals nationwide were reporting reduced patient attendance, some by as much as 70 percent to 80 percent with significant income reduction and sustainability of their practice severely threatened.
"Many senior doctors with their wealth of experience are also contemplating closing or retirement, and it is estimated that around 200 clinics nationwide will close by year-end.
"The MMA believes ultimately, it is the rakyat that will benefit from such collaborations. Patients will also be better served when both sectors maximise its healthcare services rather than working in isolation," he added.
According to Subramaniam (above), there are 7,000 plus Health Ministry-trained general practitioners (GPs) and around 3,000 plus private specialists serving in more than 200 private hospitals nationwide.
He said 2018 figures showed that the private sector was served by 14,649 doctors, 5,174 pharmacists and 34,874 nurses.
"Private healthcare spending is around 50 percent of the total national healthcare expenditure with millions of Malaysians and non-Malaysians attending private facilities daily.
"Since the movement control order in March 2020, the Malaysian Healthcare response had been largely led by the government healthcare facilities.
"There were peak pandemic times when government facilities were stretched to the maximum in certain hospitals or areas and assistance or donations were extended by the public, NGOs and concerned citizens," he said.
Subramaniam said among the various reasons that the private healthcare sector had a declining number of patients were that the lockdown rules had made patients delay their health check-ups while others were trying to avoid attending clinics or hospitals out of fear of contracting Covid-19.
"Affordability among many patients had also decreased significantly due to the economic impact of the pandemic," he added.
Subramaniam said the Sabah MMA branch had recently conducted a survey on private sector healthcare in Sabah and that many practices are expecting to close.
"According to the survey, 70 percent of private GPs and specialists have a reduced patient load of over 50 percent or more, and some 32 percent reported the need to close their clinics temporarily for various reasons, with one of the main reasons being the need to quarantine due to Covid-19 exposure.
"If the current situation continues in Sabah, 17 percent of practices estimate they will not be sustainable in the next three months and another 33 percent for the next six months. Only 25 percent in the survey estimate they can be sustainable for up to 12 months or more, he said, adding that 209 private doctors participated in the survey.
"Overall, the contraction and loss of private-sector doctors and clinics in the country will inevitably lead to more congestion at the government facilities adding even more strain to its funding and finances, not to mention its facilities and human resources," he warned.