ADUN SPEAKS | Hospital bullies: Lack of political will could hamper task force

ADUN SPEAK | Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin has announced the formation of the Improving Work Culture in Healthcare Task Force (HWCITF) to investigate the work culture that contributes to the bullying of young doctors and others.

The task force would not have been established without the death of a household officer attached to Penang General Hospital.

Two years ago there was another death of a trainee doctor.

There was a tone and shouting not only about the death of internal agents, but also about the working culture in public hospitals.

It is in this context that there has been extensive media coverage of the phenomenon of bullying contributing to mental stress among interns.

Chief medical officers and public authorities at hospitals and the ministry have been lambasted for not taking the issue of bullying seriously.

It was the media coverage that resulted in the formation of the task force led by a former civil servant with eight other members.

However, the Ministry of Health did not give a full assessment of why these people were chosen and not others.

The task force was given two months to complete its investigation into the hospital’s work culture and the death of the house officer.

This was not the case with the absurd “sudden death” attributed by the police.

Is he independent?

Although the formation of the task force with its long abbreviation is welcome, something better than nothing, there are obvious problems that could prevent the task force from carrying out its entrusted task.

There are nine reasons why the face of the task described as “independent” might not be so independent after all.

First, the composition of the task force does not give the impression that its members will be independent of government interests and biases.

The very fact that they were chosen and not others could call into question their independence. The leader of the working group is a former civil servant.

She might have the expertise to work many years for the government, but will she lead the task force down a more objective path unrelated to government interests?

Second, the nature of the representation is another drawback. There is no representation from NGOs and among trainee doctors or organizations seeking to represent them.

Why this wasn’t factored into the selection process would remain a mystery, though there’s still time to change that.

Third, isn’t it strange that all these years the Ministry of Health and public hospitals have been oblivious to the pervasive culture of intimidation and humiliation in public hospitals?

Minister of Health Khairy Jamaluddin

Although it was acknowledged that the culture of bullying was known to the authorities, it was allowed to fester with disastrous consequences.

My question is – how come the health authorities were not aware of this vicious culture to the point that the media had to highlight it?

Did the health authorities not benefit from the procedures and mechanisms in place to launch their own internal investigation? Why wait for the media to explode on the subject?

Can this end the culture of bullying?

Fourth, the mention of a “working group” evokes an image that such an initiative could dispel at some point.

I’m not saying the Bullying Task Force is sure to fail, but past similar initiatives seemed to have failed miserably.

There is no guarantee that the current task force on bullying will see the light of day with resounding success, but it must be given the opportunity.

Fifth, the Ministry of Health cannot burden the current committee with a set of guidelines to follow while labeling members as independent and objective.

Sixth, the task force gives the impression that it is more of an internal investigative committee than one established to make its findings public in the general interest of the nation.

What guarantee is there that the conclusions of the working group, if found to be disagreeable, will be made known to the public?

Seventh, it’s all well and good to set up a task force to investigate the nature of work culture in hospitals, but what assurance is there that simply punishing a few physicians will end the deep-seated culture of bullying that is hierarchical?

Eighth, I frankly believe that the current task force, given its makeup and purpose, may not be able to investigate and recommend actions that will end the culture of bullying once and for all. .

The task force may engage in firefighting but may not put out the fires permanently in public hospitals.

I hope this is not just a public relations exercise by the government.

Ninth, the problem with the task force is not the task force or its composition, but a government in power that does not take solving the nation’s problems seriously.

Even the most competent and knowledgeable working group might not solve the problem if there is no political will.

I think, I hope I am wrong, that there is a lack of political will with the current government out the back door to do what is necessary for public hospitals.

A government that came to power through the back door, including its health minister, might not have the legitimate credentials to get it right.


P RAMASAMY is a member of Perai Assembly and Deputy Chief Minister of Penang II.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

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