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Contract doctors hold aloft placards demanding equal treatment as they go on strike at the Sungai Buloh Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Contract doctors hold aloft placards demanding equal treatment as they go on strike at the Sungai Buloh Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

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KUALA LUMPUR, July 27 — Hundreds of junior doctors and medical officers at several public hospitals nationwide staged a walkout yesterday to express dissatisfaction with the government’s treatment of contract doctors.

Despite heavy police presence at the hospitals and potential disciplinary action by their Ministry of Health superiors, the walkout was held in a peaceful and organised manner.

Amid the Covid-19 pandemic, these junior doctors used the short walkout to make their voices heard all over the country before returning to their duties so as to not disrupt any ongoing patient treatments.

Here are three main takeouts from the #HartalDoktorKontrak movement.

1. It’s obvious, contract doctors refuse to accept government’s proposed solution

Contract doctors hold aloft placards demanding equal treatment as they go on strike at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri
Contract doctors hold aloft placards demanding equal treatment as they go on strike at the Kuala Lumpur Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Ahmad Zamzahuri

Contract doctors posted at government hospitals nationwide say that the government’s recent announcement of improved benefits and contract extensions are not enough.

Members of the #HartalDoktorKontrak movement remain steadfast in rejecting what they call “sugarcoating” by the government.

This follows the Cabinet’s decision to appoint medical officers, dental officers and pharmacists by contract for a period of two years once they have completed their compulsory service to ensure continuity of service and preparation for pursuing specialist studies.

The Cabinet has also agreed to extend the contractual appointment to a maximum of four years for medical officers and dental officers who are pursuing specialisation studies during the contract period of the first two years.

A member of the movement who was interviewed stated that contract doctors are demanding to be treated in the same way as their peers who were appointed on a permanent basis, citing unequal treatment despite being tasked with similar responsibilities and job scopes.

2. Discontentment a real and long-standing issue

Doctors clad in black are seen outside the Sungai Buloh Hospital during a strike July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Doctors clad in black are seen outside the Sungai Buloh Hospital during a strike July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

“Contract doctor”, by definition, is a medical officer appointed through a tenure scheme implemented by the Public Service Commission that is managed by the Public Service Department (JPA) and the Health Ministry.

This system was introduced by the Najib administration in December 2016 after it was announced as part of Budget 2017.

Yet five years later, some 23,000 contract doctors in government service who have graduated still find themselves ineligible for equal treatment and job security which is manifested in their inability to pursue a specialisation programme, federal scholarship for the Masters programmes and lowered remuneration when compared to their other peers.

They say that policy makers have had ample time to make the necessary changes to accommodate the growing number of contract doctors over the years but have not come up with a more holistic, long-term and sustainable solution to date.

Despite a plea from Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah that the government should be given time to come up with a more permanent solution amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, the group remained unconvinced and carried out the walkout as planned.

3. Not the last time we will hear of contract doctors’ ‘hartal’

A contract doctor holds aloft a placard demanding equal treatment during a strike at the Sungai Buloh Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara
A contract doctor holds aloft a placard demanding equal treatment during a strike at the Sungai Buloh Hospital July 26, 2021. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Yesterday’s “hartal” was a milestone for contract doctors seeking to pressure the government to provide job security for tens of thousands of their colleagues, but it will not be the last.

 They generated widespread support from federal lawmakers such as Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and former Health Minister Datuk Dzulkefly Ahmad who have also chimed in to lend their support.

It still remains to be seen if the government will revise its recent announcement on improved benefits and contract extensions to accommodate the demands of the group.

Until then, the persisting issues faced by these junior doctors and medical officers are still there.

In all likelihood, the #HartalDoktorKontrak trend on social media will continue to serve as a reminder of the frustration faced by contract doctors over their future.

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