Report: “The Malaysian Healthcare System: Changes to Come”

by Nishyodhan Balasundram

On May 14th 2011, the United Kingdom and Eire Council (UKEC) held a Ministerial Series event titled, “The Malaysian Healthcare System: Changes to Come”. During this event, Education Malaysia at Queensborough Terrace, London played host to the Malaysian Health Minister, Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and several officers from the Ministry of Health (MOH). Amongst the esteemed guests who attended included High Excellency Datuk Zakaria Sulong, the Malaysian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and Ireland as well as Education Malaysia London Director, Dr. Rosman Abdullah.

Eager students arrived early in the morning, most of them from the medical student fraternity but some also from dentistry courses. Some of them even came from Birmingham and Liverpool to meet with the Health Minister. Many of them came to hear what the future of the Malaysian Healthcare System had in store and how these changes would benefit them as future doctors and healthcare practitioners.

Datuk Seri began his talk with a Powerpoint presentation outlining the current state of the Malaysian Healthcare System and illustrating the differences between the private healtcare system and the public one. He stressed that as a developing nation, Malaysia would be facing new challenges in health issues and there was a need to reform the existing system and update it to anticipate and meet with the current and future needs of the nation.

The presentation was peppered with interesting facts and figures such as the amount that the Malaysian government spent on healthcare expenditures and these were clearly illustrated to back the Minister’s points. It was rather interesting to note where our nation stood internationally.

Datuk Seri highlighted the growing trend of hospitals specializing and building upon the success of the National Heart Institute (IJN), with plans to open a National Cancer Institute to mark the growing need for a specialized treatment centre to cater for the growing number of cancer patients in the country. The minister also lamented the rise of diseases such as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure amongst the rakyat as living standards and eating habits changed. Emerging diseases that are still a threat include dengue, and AIDS as well as tuberculosis and malaria. Emphasis would be placed on containing these threats.

On a more serious note, he pointed out that Malaysia also faced a critical shortage of organ donors as more than 22000 patients on the waiting list to receive organs. He contrasted the Singaporean and Malaysian systems where Singapore practiced the opt-out system where all citizens were registered organ donors except if they should choose to opt out whereas in Malaysia, the opt-in system was adopted in which citizens could only become organ donors if they chose to do so.

On the question of whether Malaysia needs more doctors, he quoted the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommendation of setting a threshold of 1 doctor per 600 members of the population (1:600) and remarked that this was entire achievable at the current trends by 2015. As a result of this, in the near future, Malaysia would have an adequate number of doctors and there would be no urgent need to increase these numbers. Building upon this, it was understandable that the government had imposed a stop to the establishment of any more medical colleges in the country as the current 26 colleges were more than sufficient to ensure an adequate number of doctors in the foreseeable future. Datuk Seri however reminded that the next step would be to focus on improving the quality of the medical graduates and abandon a focus on quantity.

Next the Minister spoke on the reforms that were being planned for the healthcare system, namely the 1Care System. He explained that 1Care would continue the legacy of universal coverage but with the additional benefits of an integrated and personalized healthcare delivery system. This would improve affordability and sustainability because a single healthcare practitioner would be charged with the needs of each individual and family. This improves medical history records and improves doctor-patient relationship, saving time as well as lives as doctors would be more informed on their patients needs and history. This he said “shows that the Ministry of Health plans to align the health system to our nation’s aspirations”.

The Question and Answer session was filled with interesting inquiries from students which included the career prospects of specialization within the public healthcare system. To this Datuk Seri informed our students that the prospects were improving markedly as there were now 800 scholarships on offer for students to pursue specialization as compared to only 400 in 2009. This doubling of the number of scholarships on offer once again shows the government’s commitment to a high quality in the healthcare system. Many of the students were also interested in the duration of housemanship and incentives on specialists to take on housemen. Datuk Seri also hinted on an increased separation between the medical practice and pharmacy practice to avoid malpractices from occurring. The Minister ended his presentation on a note that he hoped Healthcare reforms would be taken seriously and politicization would not occur to backtrack these positive developments. The event came to a close with a photo taking session and lunch was served by the Malaysian Hall Canteen.

All in all, it was an intimate affair and this lent it a cordial atmosphere and the medical students benefited from the briefing with a more open mind on what the future held for them. The presentation was informative and interesting and the face-to-face meeting with the students and the Health Ministry officials showed the great interest the government had in the wellbeing of our future doctors.