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‘Private hospitals must step up in Covid fight – before being forced to do so’

KUALA LUMPUR: Private hospitals should make concessions now to take in Covid-19 patients from government hospitals before they are ordered to do so under the emergency ordinance.

Public health specialist Dr Aidalina Mahmud said the government’s stance of not forcing private hospitals to take Covid-19 patients could change if cases continue to climb.

She said the goodwill shown by the government to private hospitals on this matter could change overnight if public facilities become overwhelmed.

“For now, what they are asking is reasonable, considering the current limitations in their workforce and facilities available.”

“Nonetheless, as time progresses and new issues come up, these requests and actions by the government can change,” the Universiti Putra Malaysia medical lecturer told the New Straits Times.

She urged public officials to bring these facts up during negotiations with private hospitals.

Many private hospitals have shown reluctance in accepting Covid-19 referrals from government healthcare facilities despite the implementation of emergency ordinance laws.

Up to Jan 25, only 95 out of 130 private hospitals have agreed to work with the Health Ministry on this effort.

This issue grabbed headlines after a meeting between private and public healthcare representatives on Jan 23 that decided that Covid-19 patients referred to private facilities must meet certain requirements for admission.

Health director-general Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah, who attended the meeting, had said only Covid-19 patients who were ambassadors, expatriates and others who requested to be admitted to private facilities would be allowed to be referred.

On Jan 27, Association of Private Hospitals of Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kuljit Singh said private hospitals could treat Covid-19 patients, especially those under Category 1 to 3, but they could not take in as many patients as government hospitals due to constraints in terms of facilities and human resources.

He said Category 4 or 5 patients (serious cases of Covid-19) needed intensive care treatment and private hospitals might not have enough beds if there were problems during treatment.

This year, the government allocated RM100 million for the treatment of Covid-19 patients and non-Covid-19 patients at private hospitals.

Dr Aidalina said if taxpayers alone were expected to bear the cost of Covid-19 treatment in private hospitals, the amount would be insufficient.

“At this point, all parties should focus on lives, not profit. Time is of the essence now in terms of Covid-19 prevention and control.

“We need to reboot our public healthcare system to a semblance of normalcy,” she said, as she brought up Italy’s wildfire-like spread of the virus and staggering death count of over 85,000.

United Kingdom-based political and cultural magazine The New Statesman said a key shortfall in Italy’s management of the pandemic was that private hospitals had no obligation to share the burden of treating patients.

Out of 5,300 intensive care beds available in Italy, only 800 were from private hospitals.

Dr Aidalina said the assumption that the public healthcare system could continue to shoulder the burden of Covid-19 treatment because “it is cheap” was a fallacy as experts estimated that Malaysia had spent more than RM2 billion on Covid-19 treatment and prevention, including for personal protective equipment, tests and intensive care.

On the right rates that should be charged, she said for now, it was all right for private hospitals to cater to the wealthy.

“At least it can free up beds at public facilities for the poor.

“Universal health coverage states that the population should get the treatment that they need promptly without having the burden of paying high bills.

“So if the rich can spend some money on treatment and that will not put them in financial hardship, why shouldn’t they pay?”

She said insurance companies might need to help out the way private hospitals have.

“If they have not been covering Covid treatments, now is the time to look into their policies and find the best way to contribute.

“Insurance companies need to look into their policies again and strike a balance between saving lives and making a profit. Surely they can work something out.”

Universiti Malaya’s Social and Preventive Medicine Department’s Dr Maznah Dahlui, an expert on health economics, said: “Insurers should pay for those insured. We don’t want to end up with more businesses closing.

“Private hospitals should treat some public hospital patients as part of their social contribution.”

source: New Straits Times

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