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Govt Urged To Protect Junior Doctors After Houseman At Penang Hospital Died From A Fall

It is the second junior doctor who fell to his death in two years after working at the same hospital in Penang.

Cover image via Free Malaysia Today & Middlesex University

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The government has been urged to address the harsh working environment faced by junior doctors, who have often become a subject of bullying and overworking

In separate statements, Penang Deputy Menteri Besar, the state health committee chairman, and the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) have all spoken out following the death of a houseman who fell to his death on 17 April.

According to Malaysiakini, the Ministry of Health (MOH) said the case is currently being probed and urged the public to give police time to investigate the cause of death.

Penang health director Dr Ma'arof Sudin said an autopsy had been performed and the results are pending.

The young doctor reported to the Penang General Hospital for work on 4 April and was found dead on 17 April after falling from his apartment building.

His death came to light through a report by The Vibes on 3 May, which noted that the initial investigation has classified the case as sudden death but the police said it may be reclassified if fresh evidence comes to light.

Media reports highlighted that it is not an isolated incident as a trainee doctor from the same hospital also fell to his death three weeks after quitting his job in December 2020.

Penang General Hospital.

Image via Free Malaysia Today

Following the news, Penang state executive councillor (EXCO) Dr Norlela Ariffin said MOH is not taking the issue seriously enough

In a Facebook post yesterday, 4 May, the EXCO — who is also state health committee chairman — said she has brought up the "illogical inhumane working hours faced by housemen" in the past as a family member of hers faced a similar experience.

"She experienced 27 accidents because she was too tired, and Alhamdulillah, [she] survived. Her friend died," she lamented.

"I remember a previous doctor killed himself."

"But the response I get from MOH administrators, including politicians, is that all doctors have to go through this rite of passage. It's like an accepted culture in the medical profession," she said, adding earlier that employees from other sectors would never be subjected to a similar harsh working environment.

The state Penanti assemblyperson also shared that her daughter-in-law started working at a hospital in the UK about three years ago and is now much happier with "humane work-life conditions".

"The state's Health Department (JKN) says the overwork problem is because there isn't enough manpower but there are plenty of medical graduates who did not (get a position) or had to wait a long time to get a job," she said.

"It does not make sense for MOH to let this issue continue on when doctors need to make life-or-death decisions when they treat patients under these kinds of working conditions."

Penang state executive councillor (EXCO) Dr Norlela Ariffin.

Image via The Vibes

Penang deputy chief minister P Ramasamy also echoed the same sentiment, saying that he has heard many stories about how trainee doctors are bullied in public hospitals

Ramasamy said police should not classify cases related to housemen immediately as sudden death but probe for underlying reasons that caused the deaths, reported Free Malaysia Today.

Penang Deputy Menteri Besar P Ramasamy.

Image via Zulaikha Zainuzma/New Straits Times

Meanwhile, MMA president Dr Koh Kar Chai also urged the police to investigate without any delays and hoped the privacy of the family will be respected and the incident will not be sensationalised, reported Malay Mail.

Speaking to Free Malaysia Today, Koh said young doctors undergoing housemanship may refuse to seek help over workplace stress due to fears of being stigmatised and having their future careers affected, especially if they were diagnosed with serious mental disorders.

"But those who have stress-related issues should not fear such repercussions," he said.

"Being stressed is a normal response when a person feels they are not able to cope with a situation. Not everyone knows how to cope properly and they should seek help when it is needed."

He said all junior doctors are told during orientation that every hospital has a committee to deal with issues faced by housemen, adding that they are guided by senior doctors at their workplaces.

"While there may be a few senior house officers and medical officers who are not supportive, the majority will guide the housemen throughout their training period," he said.

The MMA president said junior doctors facing problems at hospitals and do not want to report to their seniors due to privacy issues or the fear of repercussions, especially in cases that involve bullying, can reach out to HelpDoc, its own toll-free helpline.

Koh said the helpline has helped 120 cases since 2017.

Malaysian Medical Association (MMA) president Dr Koh Kar Chai.

Image via @drcaseysurf (Twitter)

Under Malaysian law, a houseman needs to undergo a two-year training period in government hospitals before they can practise medicine.

Seeking professional help is not a form of weakness.

If you or anyone you know need help, please call these Malaysian hotlines:

1. BEFRIENDERS KL
24-hour
Contact: +603-76272929
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook | Twitter

2. TALIAN KASIH

24-hour
Contact: 15999
WhatsApp: +6019-2615999
Email: [email protected]
Website | Facebook

3. BUDDY BEAR CHILDLINE

Daily (12pm - 12am)
Contact: 1800-18-2327
Email: [email protected]y
Facebook | Instagram

For a more thorough directory of resources, head over to the websites of Malaysian Mental Health Association or MINDAKAMI.

Many doctors endure extreme working hours, bullies, and uncertain future prospects while working at government hospitals in Malaysia: