Back to basics in hospital care

By Dr Timothy Cheng

Appeared on The Star,

I REFER to the editorial “Treating the health of the nation” (The Star, Oct 28) on the budget allocated for the upgrading of our healthcare system in the year to come – new infrastructure, cheaper medicines, etc.

Having served in Hospital Lahad Datu for slightly over a year, I too hope that next year will bring about tangible and concrete improvements here.

For the past seven years, the building automation system of our hospital has been malfunctioning, causing multiple closures of the operating theatres. Operating in high temperature and humidity levels has increased the number of surgical site infections, compromising patient care.

The issue has been brought to the Health Ministry but nothing has been done about it. The RM400,000 needed to service/replace the system cannot be allocated as there is “not enough budget” for it.

Staffing is an issue as well. We have 44 nursing posts that are vacant and are waiting to be filled. Staff nurses in the operating theatres can work up to 120 hours a week and 24 hours at a stretch without sleep. This definitely compromises patient safety and the quality of care we are able to deliver. The overflow of nursing graduates from the public and private sector somehow does not translate into more nurses for the public hospitals, especially those in Sabah and Sarawak.

I read articles like the one mentioned earlier with cynicism and sadness because I do not see how all the millions allocated are helping us. Meeting after meeting, letter after letter is met with the same answer, “We are working on it”, “Not enough money”, “Not enough staff”. When will real change take place? Must we wait till someone dies from a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel due to exhaustion? Or a serious intra-operative error caused by tiredness?

These issues are only the tip of the iceberg of the problems and hurdles faced by many Malaysian hospitals, especially those in small towns and districts. I urge leaders to go back to the basics to look at issues such as water and electricity supply to hospitals, linen and laundry processing, clinical waste management and all the other fundamentals of running a hospital.

The building of new hospitals has been met with great enthusiasm and excitement from the general public. I sincerely hope that they have been built with foresight and proper planning in mind. How often have we heard of equipment failure and maintenance issues very soon after the opening of a newly-built building or structure? Having said that, let us not forget the maintenance of the existing hospitals in our pursuit of bigger and better ones.

Come 2016, I hope that real reforms will take place in our healthcare system. There is no point in building new infrastructure or developing new systems if we neglect what we already have and fail to take ownership of it.

DR TIMOTHY CHENG

Hospital Lahad Datu