Dr. Francis Ngu of Parti Keadilan Rakyat, Sarawak. The government is urged to provide a realistic time frame to improve medical care services in the Sarawak. The proposed solutions to the bed shortages at SGH include the conversion of SIMC project to a public specialist hospital, and the approval of a second general hospital for Kuching. Proposal for a new specialist general hospital for Bandar Sri Aman, the provision of basic specialist services to certain Divisional and District Hospitals state-wide, and more, should be timely addressed as well .
Both the Federal and State authorities are urged to be more earnestly and intensely engaged, to adopt a give-and-take approach for the sake of the suffering public, and to proceed with the needed planning with due haste.
Parti Keadilan Rakyat in Sarawak has since the 2006 general elections highlighted the shortfall in medical care services in Sarawak. Two senior State Government leaders have in recent weeks been reported as having made some belated statements admitting short-falls in service at Kuching and Bandar Sri Aman. Regrettably however, the congestion and overload at the polyclinics in Kuching were not addressed by the Ministers concerned. In 2006, Parti Keadilan Rakyat had called for the planning of 3 new general hospitals and 3 new polyclinics before 2020 within the expanding Kuching metropolis.
The subject is of some urgency in view of constant expression of public discontent with aspects of essential medical services. Longer term planning of the medical service based on population and burden-of-disease projections must replace the piece-meal laissez-faire approach. The long gestation period in the planning of a hospital, and anywhere from 5-15 years for project completion, makes a proactive approach all the more important.
The shortage of hospital beds at SGH, which is a regional hospital catering for the whole of Sarawak and more, has been evident for some years. The severe congestion and long waiting times at some specialist clinics of SGH was also highlighted as far back as 2006. SGH is the hospital for Kuching too, but in a sense Kuching District does not have a general hospital almost exclusively for use by Kuching residents !
The fastest way to provide more hospital beds to Kuching, as we stated in the past, is to convert the RM 350 million failed Sarawak International Medical Centre project into a public hospital of 200-300 beds operated by the Federal Ministry of Health. Negotiations between the State and Federal sides were reported to have been initiated in mid-June, but it seems there are more complications to it than meet the eye; no report of progress made in the talks have been made public. Central to the apparent impasse is the quantum that the Federal side should reimburse the State side, and related matters of costing and finance. The Federal Health Minister was last reported to be favouring the option of taking out a lease of the SIMC infrastructure from the State side, to which option the Sarawak government has as yet to make a response.
The final victim of the State-Federal tussle and indecision is none other than the suffering public of not only Kuching, but also patients referred to SGH from the whole of Sarawak who sometimes face unconscionable delays in appointments and urgently needed procedures. In the meantime, the building stock and equipment at the white-elephant SIMC face deterioration and possible obsolescence. Since the same political group BN controls both the Federal and State government, it would be ironical if a meaningful compromise between the two sides cannot be achieved soonest in the best public interest. Notwithstanding, we contend that the RM $350 million investment of State funds in the SIMC project must return public benefits, and SIMC should not continue to stand as a “white-elephant”!
The public would not be impressed by the delay in decision making. They have as yet to be informed that conversion of the SIMC project into a government general hospital, once approved for funding, would take at least 2-3 years to complete.
Concurrent with the negotiated conversion of SIMC project, planning for medical service improvement must also proceed for other areas of Sarawak, for which we have made an overview statement in 2008. It remains only to be said here that planning for another general hospital for greater Kuching at a separate site, and for a new specialist hospital for Bandar Sri Aman should proceed simultaneously. Fast–tracked budgetary approval should be given instead of the usual process, by which a new hospital will only come into service in 10-15 years ! ( By the usual budgetary process, a development project is put up for consideration in the next Malaysia Plan, 10MP, and building is likely to take place in the following Plan, 11MP).
Thus State and Federal Governments should set a shorter time frame of say 7-8 years for new proposed hospital projects, reflecting government seriousness in addressing the needs deficit. The public has borne the hardships long enough !