Specialists in district hospitals
I refer to “Liow: Specialists can help ease shortage in district hospitals” (Star,Jan 8)
The decision of the Health Ministry to have medical specialists serve at all district hospitals is a laudable move that is long overdue. It would not only reduce congestion in general hospitals but increase and improve the services at the smaller hospitals many of which are under-utilised, treating minor ailments only. By having specialists permanently stationed in district hospitals will also allow the training of housemen and even medical students at these hospitals.
The recruitment of foreign specialists to serve in districts may alleviate the problem temporally however it may not be wisest move as experience has shown this practice has failed to uplift the standard of care on a long-term basis. The practice of hiring foreign specialists has been ongoing for many years. It started as s stop gap measure in the sixties and seventies to overcome the shortage of our own specialists then but unfortunately till today they are yet to be adequately replaced by local doctors. After all these years we are still told to be short of not just specialists but medical officers as well. Something must have gone wrong with our system of overcoming the shortage of specialist all these years.
Why are most of our district hospitals still devoid of specialists even in the major basic disciplines of medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynecology, pediatrics, and orthopedics? Are we really short of these specialists if so why? Why are they concentrated in the bigger General Hospitals, leaving the smaller district hospitals to be manned by just junior medical offices? These are some of the issues that need to be addressed by the Health Ministry.
Recruiting highly qualified doctors from foreign countries is however not the answer to the perceived shortage of medical specialists. Many of these foreigners are unable to communicate effectively with our patients due to language problems. Moreover not all are fully committed to handle our patients who have become more demanding and whose problems are not familiar to the foreign specialists. Moreover the problem of providing quality treatment to our people is primarily our responsibility which we should not abdicate.
Greater efforts must be made to increase the number of our own local medical specialists and incentives given to retain them locally especially in government service longer. A better working environment, increased remunerations and above all a fairer system of transfers and opportunities for promotions based purely on merit may go a long way to keep these specialists in service locally. Singing the same old song of the shortage of specialists is not going to be accepted by the people who want more effective measures implemented by the ministry to overcome the shortage.