Doctors in public hospitals on contracts have come to point where they have no choice but to engage in a strike on July 26, 2021 to press for permanent positions that have eluded them for long.
Whether the hartal really takes place at 11 am today is difficult to determine given the various forms of threats from the authorities.
However, whether the strike takes place or not or whether it would be postponed to a different date in the near future, does not really undermine their cause.
Lack of permanency constitutes a serious problem for contract doctors for a long time, but accentuated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
There is really no future for government contract doctors, only small number get to enter private hospitals.
By and large, young government doctors face a bleak future. Without the alternative of entering the private sector due to the lack of specialisation, these doctors only hope is to obtain permanent positions in the government hospitals.
But then, there is very little thinking has gone into ways to make these contract doctors permanent after five years of service. The government contract doctors have bore the brunt of the service during the pandemic.
They are considered the front line doctors who took the burden of responsibility during the pandemic. Yet before and during the pandemic, these doctors have not been appreciated by the government.
The fact that majority would be unemployed after the expiry of their contract never dawned upon the government or the authorities in public hospitals.
The announcement of hartal must have caught the government by surprise.
The cabinet decision to extend the contracts of those who have served more than four years seems to be half baked response to thwart the planned hartal.
Even the Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin admitted a few days ago in support of the National Recovery Plan (NRP) that the government had failed to provide adequate funds to the Ministry of Health.
Such a statement by Muhyiddin did not go well with the idea of merely extending the contracts of government doctors and not providing them permanent positions.
The Health DG Nor Hisham might refer to the Hippocratic Oath that government doctors took before their entry into the profession, but then what about the obligation of the government to these forlorn doctors.
The matter of permanency of government contract doctors is not something new.
It has been brewing for a long time, it needed the right time and circumstances to explode in the open.
The pandemic provided the opportunity for the matter to be brought in the open especially under the conditions of duress.
The open statement by the Minister of Health Adam Baba that Bumiputra contractor doctors would be given priority for permanent posts did not go well with the contract doctors.
The fact that contract doctors have come together as one and not divided by race and religion represents a major setback for the Malay-only PN government. Whether the hartal actually takes or not might be academic.
The important thing is that the contract doctors by acting together in solidarity have put the government in defence and shame.
Nor Hisham of all the persons should know about the sad plight of the government contract doctors.
There is no necessity to use psychology so that the contract doctors can defy the hartal.
It is a lot more easier for those in power, authority and high income to talk on the side of law and order.
It is hypocritical to talk about the Hippocratic Oath. Merely extending their contracts does not address the core of the issue—permanent positions for contract doctors.
The prevalent thinking in government circles that the private hospitals by absorbing excess doctors might cushion the government hospitals might not be true anymore.
Government doctors might be young and inexperienced, but their professionalism and service cannot be discounted.
They must be treated with respect and dignity by giving the provision of permanent positions.
If the government has no money, the problem is not with the contract doctors.