The Health Minister dropped a minor bombshell over the weekend. Locum, or moonlighting by doctors, a practise that has been going on for donkey years is finally legal. Almost everyone I know does locum, usually after office hours or during the weekends or on their annual leave. The reasons given by the Health Minister and the DPM on why it’s finally allowed were a little hard to stomach. He said it’s because:
1. It’s hard to ‘catch’ those doing locum; therefore difficult to enforce the previous ban.
2. It’s to prevent government doctors from leaving the service as now they can still work for the government and have some extra income on the side.
They tell me 2 things. First the ministry has no enforcement power at all or they have turned a blind eye to this practise for years and years. Secondly, government doctors have been doing locum for ages and still they are leaving the service by the droves. Obviously somethings other than monetary gains are contributing to this exodus to ‘greener pastures’.
The Consumer Association of Penang fired an immediate salvo. Actually I would have been shocked to death if they didn’t say a word! They must have a word in for every issue, making them like the proverbial sour grapes. Suddenly they are concerned about 2 things:
1. Patient care might be compromised.
2. Doctors might not be getting enough rest!
Again, I have a bone or two to pick with the above. Like I said, doctors have been moonlighting for years and still worked in the government hospital. And patient after patient has come and gone, treated by the very same doctors! I think our record has been very satisfactory thus far.
The second reason almost had me rolling on the floor laughing hysterically and also bitterly. Suddenly people are concerned that doctors are not getting enough rest!!! What a joke! What a sick joke actually. We have been complaining of the extreme workload and stress, zero family time, zero promotions and zero scope of career expansions (except those lucky ones born with golden/silver or even platinum spoons in their mouth) for donkey years and everyone just kept quiet. And now suddenly when they announced this locum thing, they suddenly became so caring. “Our doctors need to rest, since they work so hard and long hours!” Phoooeeee….! I think amongst all the Group A professionals in the civil service, doctors are the ones who has been constantly treated like dirt. For instance, Group A professionals are entitled to an office; we don’t even get a locker!
Truth be told, nothing has changed with the announcement. I think it’s even more difficult now since in order to do locum, one has to get the approval of the head of department. I am not sure how many heads out there will be willing to approve it.
Think logically for a moment. Is there anyone out there who relish doing more work, sacrificing time and rest and even family time together to do locum? I really don’t think so. The heart of the matter is, none of us like to do locum. So why do it? Because for many of us, it’s not a matter of the extra income, it’s a matter of life and death and making ends meet at the end of the month and paying that extra 30 sen for petrol! Why? Because the salary that government doctors draw is pittance!
I have been doing locum for as long as I could remember. I don’t like doing it but sometimes I have no choice. The extra money helps in paying for this or that bill; or to pay for some thing that always crops up. If I can have my way, surely I’d rather spend time at home doing something more productive than to continue seeing patients beyond my office hour in some clinic somewhere.
Think about this too…..if the government bans locum and enforced it, I think the majority of the clinics in the country will have to close down. The locum doctors are the back-bone of the private clinic business!
So don’t judge us. I think the government would do well to study why doctors continue to leave the service and not put the finger on locum practise. There are so many factors compelling doctors to leave. I left in 2000. Ask us why and we will tell you….. Just don’t presecute us when we show and tell….