Medical groups give lukewarm response to budget

(FMT) – Medical groups have given a half-hearted welcome to the 2021 budget, saying they appreciate the government’s commitment to supporting the health sector in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic but feel the allocations and measures announced leave much to be desired.

Dr Subramaniam Muniandy, president of the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA), acknowledged the value of the RM1 billion allocated to fighting Covid-19 and the RM500 payment to frontliners, but said some of the interests of the medical fraternity had not been adequately addressed.

“One forgotten group is the general practitioners, who have been sidelined repeatedly during the management of the pandemic.

“The MMA proposed tax breaks and incentives to encourage and include the 7,000 GPs in the fight against the pandemic, but these calls were not heeded,” he said.

He also questioned whether the Short Term Employment Programme would include extra roles for medical practitioners given the increased demand caused by the pandemic.

“Disappointingly, we don’t see any major allocations for the much needed boost in our healthcare workforce,” he said, adding that there was a lack of acknowledgement of the “long standing issues regarding the permanent and contract positions for junior healthcare workers”.

However, he said the allocation of RM90 million for a pneumococcal vaccination programme, the numerous tax relief initiatives and the government’s focus on mental health stood out to him as bright spots.

Azrul Mohd Khalib, chief executive of the Galen Centre for Health and Social Policy, noted that the government had demonstrated it was treating its Covid-19 response as a top priority, but he said this could have unforeseen negative consequences.

“The diversion of resources and cuts to fund the Covid-19 response now threatens to have a significant negative impact on our response towards non-communicable diseases, such as cancer, kidney disease and cardiovascular diseases,” he said.

“For example, it is shocking to see that the allocation for cancer has been drastically reduced from RM328.7 million in 2020 to RM136.4 million. Nephrology, too, suffers a massive reduction.

“We cannot afford to look at one crisis at a time. Telling ourselves that we will deal with cancer and chronic kidney disease some other day after we are done with Covid-19 is not an option,” Azrul said.

He said that these cuts risked leaving people more vulnerable than before and called for the government to review the allocations for the health sector.

Dr Kuljit Singh, president of the Association Of Private Hospitals Malaysia (APHM), said his organisation was “happy to note the budget this year has focused on further containment and control of Covid-19, including getting vaccines when available for the citizens of this country.”

However, he added, the association still hoped that money could be provided to allow for the transfer of patients awaiting treatment to private hospitals at no personal expense, at least for the duration of the pandemic.

He also welcomed the RM35 million allocated to the Malaysia Healthcare Travel Council, saying income generated by medical tourism at private hospitals had all but evaporated due to the closing of borders.