Side Views

What really happened at the Ministry of Health roadshow — Steven K.W. Chow

April 05, 2012

APRIL 5 — The title of the event was “Pelancaran Siri Jejalah Public Engagement-Kajian Sistem Kesihatan Malaysia” but what really happened on March 31 was a paradox. As a media event it was well organised.

The members of most of the mainstream media were at hand. They, together with the large number of government servants still in their uniforms or with their name tags, virtually made up the bulk of the crowd. The robust public presence that was supposed to be the objective of this engagement was clearly missing.

Thus it was not surprising that the discussion was devoid of substance and spirit.

Firstly, the announcement was only made known a mere three days prior to the event. Insufficient notice and the choice of the busy Saturday morning hours for the event were effective in excluding many doctors and members of the public who were genuinely interested in providing some useful feedback.

Secondly, the time allocated for actual public engagement speaks well for itself and reflects on the sincerity of the call for meaningful public discussion.

The minister’s speech alone took 30 minutes. The three invited panellists took more than 30 minutes and the chairman took another 10 minutes in introduction and comments. Then the panellists’ rebuttal before closing took another 20 minutes. So what was left for questions and comments was less than 30 minutes. That was the level of the public engagement and discussion for this much-touted event.

Thirdly, the call for transparency and how this would avoid the politicising of the issue was loud and clear. One would have expected the minister to lay out clearly on the table the details of the second 1 Care paper (which is the follow-up of the first concept paper) for public knowledge and debate. Revealing details of this would have gone a long way to reassuring the public that the Ministry of Health was indeed on the path of meaningful public engagement for its programme to reform, evolve or transform (or call it whatever) the national healthcare system for the betterment of the rakyat.

Instead, valuable time and effort was used spinning old yarns and overused rhetoric that we have heard over the past four months. The usual menu of “denials, things are too early, nothing is decided, still in concept stage/option stage, profiling of critics, etc, etc” was repeated for the benefit of the Press. It was clear that the strategy was to avoid talking about the details.

To make things even more patronising, a member of the panel (a GP) and a similar-minded speaker from the floor (another GP) were going on and on about how terrible life as a GP is today, i.e. long working hours, falling patient load and how 1 Care would make it better for GPs, for themselves, their income, shorter working hours and their judicious use of power as gatekeepers for patients.

The ultimate important question on how much more would the already over-burdened 1.5 million or so taxpayers are expected to pay for the new healthcare delivery system was left silent and untouched.

Equally noticeable too was the absence of the mention of 1 Care in the minister’s speech which made someone quip to him whether the Ministry of Health itself “pun Tak nak 1Care”.

In conclusion, the MOH road show did not kick off with a healthy start  but on the wrong foot. This was a golden opportunity to show the rakyat that the minister of health was willing to walk the talk and confidently lay down the latest details of the second 1 Care paper for valuable public scrutiny and debate.

This was the transparency that a distinguished panellist, Dr Chandra Muzaffar, was calling for. Without this transparency, the public will continue to question the ministry’s proposal especially if it is not supported with adequate and meaningful public and stakeholder feedback. Surely the trust of the public for the ministry and vice versa could not have fallen so low?

* Dr Steven K.W. Chow is president of the Federation of Private Medical Practitioners Association, Malaysia.

* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication. The Malaysian Insider does not endorse the view unless specified.