Sabah Health and People's Wellbeing Minister Stephen Wong Tien Fatt's hope that a specialist hospital will be set in Sandakan may be fulfilled if KPJ Healthcare Berhad, a Malaysian private healthcare provider offering specialist healthcare services at its hospitals around Malaysia, sets up a branch in Sandakan.
Former Berjaya politician from Sandakan, Datuk Yap Pak Leong, told Daily Express that "the Lai Fook Kim family of Sandakan planned to set up a private specialist hospital in the past."
There is a need for a specialist hospital in Sandakan to complement the Duchess of Kent government hospital for orthopaedic and traumatology, cardiology and heart surgery, chemotherapy and radiation oncology including plastic surgery etc., according to many people in Sandakan, and the KPJ Group may take over the planned private hospital mothballed for years.
Asked at the sideline of the SST Customs event briefing by the Federal Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng Sunday, Stephen Wong said he was not sure whether the Lai family might still be interested to pursue their planned hospital venture, but he welcomed "any such development for the good of Sandakan where the people have been clamouring for a specialist hospital."
The local community not only stand to receive better access to quality specialist treatment but the opening of new medical facility will provide job opportunities and career advancement.
Sabah is still lacking specialists, doctors and facilities according to Wong, who is also the MP for Sandakan.
He said, "We need specialist hospitals to be set up in Sandakan. Health services are among the essential services needed by the people."
Currently, a specialist hospital is being built in Tawau. It is hoped to attract people from neighbouring Indonesia for treatment in Tawau.
In the interest of growing tourism industry in the State, with the latest medical facilities, a private hospital will no doubt raise the bar on healthcare services in the East Coast of Sabah where local and international patients like tourists can receive the best healthcare services.
In the past, members of the public in Sandakan were perplexed as to why despite having brought in the medical equipment into the premises of the planned private hospital then, the Lai Fook Kim family could not get the needed authorisation to start the hospital operation as higher standard of healthcare will contribute significantly to Sabah's health tourism industry, according to Raymond Lim, a retiree.
As an example in the past, KPJ Healthcare Bhd president and managing director Dato Amiruddin Abdul Satar said that the first Kuching Specialist Hospital at Tabuan Stutong Commercial Centre, which began operation in 2004, had treated more than 500,000 patients.
In a year, the Kuching Specialist Hospital received 63,486 outpatients and 3,448 in-patients. Of that 20 per cent or 14,775 were foreigners mostly from West Kalimantan. The KPJ Group handles more than 2.8 million patients annually.
Rumours blamed a politician eager to have a share in the business for putting up obstacles, as the politician also has an interest in a specialist hospital in Kota Kinabalu.
Even West Malaysian estate agents after hearing such accounts were flabbergasted at such Sabah's woes when such developments can contribute to the medical and economic development in Sabah.
One of them, Twins Realty's Principal Wincent Saw Wai Kean told Daily Express at a property talk recently, that he was surprised to learn that even beneficial development like setting up a viable private hospital in Sandakan, to benefit the public also faced obstacles for years, contributing to the defeat of many BN candidates in GE14.
Comparatively, the state capital has three private hospitals – KPJ, Gleneagles and Jesselton Medical Centre, and Wong's call to these specialist hospitals setting up shop in Sandakan may be taken up by KPJ very soon after their due diligent process. Wong said the average ratio between doctors and patients in Malaysia is 1:600 and 1:1,200 in Sabah, doubly lacking behind the national ratio.
He was happy that the planned new Tawau Specialist Hospital will provide more sophisticated medical facilities for the people there besides jobs.
With better private healthcare facilities in Sandakan and Tawau, the people do not have to travel far by road or air to get specialist treatment, and help some to save on cost as health care services are among the essential services needed by the people.
Meanwhile, in comparison, KPJ Healthcare Bhd's new Kuching Specialist Hospital will expand its services and meet the needs of Sarawakians and tourists with a 300-bed hospital, costing over RM130 million with ICU/HDU/CICU (Intensive Care Unit, High Dependency Unit, Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit) and day wards.
Specialist hospitals also provide opportunities for doctors to join and serve the people like KPJ with some 25 hospitals throughout Malaysia, it registered 40 per cent increase in health tourists, the majority coming from Indonesia, the Middle East and East Africa.
KPJ also receive patients from Australasia, Europe and America to its network of private healthcare specialist hospitals with some 1,000 medical specialists and 11,000 employees.