Penang lawmakers urge Putrajaya to investigate work conditions for junior doctors after houseman falls to death

Norlela claimed many junior doctors in Malaysia are subject to 'inhumane' work conditions. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, May 4 — Penang health executive councillor Norlela Ariffin today urged the Health Ministry and Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin, in particular, to look seriously into the work conditions of junior doctors at government hospitals.

The Penanti assemblyman claimed many junior doctors in Malaysia are subject to “inhumane” work conditions that would not pass muster in other industries, adding that they have resulted in deaths.

She cited a recent news report by news portal The Vibes on a houseman at the Penang Hospital who fell to his death to back her allegation that federal health authorities were not taking the issue seriously enough.

“I’ve brought up this illogical inhumane working hours faced by housemen based on my own family’s experience in Malaysia, which employees in other sectors would never be subjected to,” Norlela said in a statement.

She related that her relative had experienced 27 accidents as a result of fatigue, but fortunately survived them all.

“Her friend died,” Norlela added.

She also said she remembered another doctor who “killed himself” but did not elaborate.

According to Norlela, she had raised this issue with the Health Ministry previously.

She claimed the given response, including from other politicians, is that all doctors have to go through this rite of passage.

“It’s like an accepted culture in the medical profession,” she said.

She said her daughter-in-law has been working for almost three years at an ICU trauma hospital in the United Kingdom where the work-life conditions were humane.

“The state Health Department claimed that the overwork issue was due to a lack of manpower, but we have a lot of medical graduates who did not get placement or are still waiting to be posted for a long time,” she said.

She said it doesn’t make sense that the Health Ministry would allow such conditions to continue for doctors who have to make life and death decisions in the line of duty.

“How are they able to work in these kinds of conditions especially when treating patients?” Norlela asked.

In a separate statement, Penang Deputy Chief Minister II P. Ramasamy said he believed the Penang Hospital doctor who fell to his death was a victim of bullying and humiliation.

He urged the authorities not to simply treat the latest fatality as “sudden death” and noted there have been allegations of trainee doctors being bullied and harassed at the same hospital.

“This is not the first case, there was another case of the death of a doctor two years ago,” Ramasamy said, warning that unless the hospital and the ministry addressed the issue head-on, such incidents may recur.

He also claimed to have heard stories of trainee doctors faced with “regimental training where they were scolded and shouted at as though the aim was to break their spirit before confession”.

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