Friday, January 12, 2007

Beef up quality medical care in peripheral hospitals

Ensure quality medical care for all

I refer to your report “One-stop cancer centre”(Star,Jan 10).

We are very glad with the government in trying to improve the treatment of cancer patients with the setting up of the one-stop cancer centre in Putrajaya. We are also happy that this National Cancer Institute will be equipped with the latest state of the art equipment like the Cyclotron and PET-CT scanners. This would make our National Cancer Institute of the premier
cancer treatment centres in the region.

What is disappointing is the lack of Oncologists. Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek himself has admitted the training of oncologists had not been very successful so far as there are only 37 such specialists in the country. Like in all other specialities, we have to resort to foreign oncologists to provide treatment to our own people in our own sophisticated medical setup. This to me is indeed a failure on our medical and health services.

Another disturbing fact is the late diagnosis of our cancer cases. According to the Health Minister 80% of the 40,000 new cancer cases a year are diagnosed rather late and this does not augur well for the quality of medical and health care in the country.

Late and missed diagnosis is not limited to cancer cases alone. In fact in the peripheral hospitals even simple common conditions like acute appendicitis is missed, resulting in severe consequences, let alone more complex diagnostic problems.

The main problem of this is the non-availability of experienced doctors in the peripheral hospitals. Most of the senior specialists are confined to the major hospitals, leaving the smaller hospitals in the districts are to be manned by very junior doctors with not enough experience in the management of the various diseases.

In fact we have reached a state where all our hospitals should be ideally is equipped with the latest medical equipment and have the services of resident senior doctors and specialists. After 50 years of independence, we now have the most modern hospitals in the region but are plagued by the same old problem of shortage of specialists.

There is a dire need to beef up the level of care at the smaller hospitals in the country by decentralising the medical services., Instead of functioning as transit centres for patients to bigger hospitals, district hospitals they should in fact be equipped and staffed to treat all ailments and emergencies, leaving only those requiring sophisticated treatment to be referred to bigger centres.

Basic medical care is the legitimate right of every citizen and this should be made available easily for all regardless of their socio-economic status. It should not be confined to the major cities for the only advantaged few.

Dr.Chris Anthony

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