The mandatory government service for doctors has been relaxed to 18 months from two years, a move that is seen as a way to ease the pressure faced by medical officers under the health ministry’s contract system.
According to a guideline issued in October last year, medical officers can apply for the reduction once they complete their 18th month of service, which means they are free to join the private sector or look for opportunities abroad before the two-year period is up.
“The eligibility criteria for reduction in the compulsory service period will only be considered for those who have served at least one year and six months in the public sector. Under Section 42 of the Medical Act 1971, the health minister may grant a reduction,” the Malaysian Medical Council said in a guideline on the matter.
According to medical sources, this move is to encourage contract doctors to leave and join the private sector to ease the pressure on the government. The government is now saddled with a problem of 23,000 contract doctors demanding permanent postings with thousands more set to join this group of junior doctors every year.
The compulsory service for doctors in public hospitals used to be three years while the housemanship was for one year. In 2010, the mandatory period was reduced to two years but the internship was raised to two years. The total minimum number of years in government service remains at four.
According to doctors, the latest move, which was not announced widely, was made after the government had difficulty in accommodating the large number of doctors finishing their housemanship in the government service, which resulted in the contract system.
Malaysian Medical Association president Subramaniam Muniandy when contacted, said they were not aware of this provision and will comment later.
A senior consultant in a private hospital said this may not be the right thing to do as a full four years, including housemanship in a government hospital or other institutions, was the best way for doctors to pick up skills.
“If it is done for expediency like letting the contract doctors leave to ease the government’s financial burden, then this may not be right. Most senior doctors feel that the longer they are in government hospitals, the more competent they become,” he said.
Besides this reduction, doctors who finish their internship are allowed to apply for postponement of their compulsory service from the minister for valid reasons while those who do their housemanship in recognised hospitals abroad can request for exemption after returning.
Those who have served abroad with at least 10 years’ clinical experience can also apply for exemption from compulsory service locally upon their return. - FMT