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Malaysia’s Anwar Calls for Probe into Medical Sector Corruption
Asia Sentinel’s series of stories picked up by local publications
Anwar Ibrahim, the head of Malaysia’s Parti Keadilan Raykat, has called for the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) to investigate allegations of corruption, malpractice and abuse in the Malaysian Medical Council (MMC) whether or not the Health Ministry or the MMC itself agrees.
Speaking at an event in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week Anwar said he was familiar with the general allegations of corruption in the MMC and told the audience, “I would say if it’s something serious then MACC must come in immediately notwithstanding what the Minister says or what the Medical Council says.”
Anwar was responding to a question of whether he was aware of recent allegations reported by the prizewinning regional news portal Asia Sentinel of serious corruption in the MMC and claims of malpractice and insurance fraud. Local publications have picked up the stories and reported even that rape and sexual assault of patients were being protected by MMC governing council members, some of whom are alleged to be paid by the insurance companies covering the legal fees of the accused doctors.
In addition to allegations of corruption within the medical profession governing council, there has recently been an increase in reports of poor behavior and abuse of patients by Malaysian doctors more generally. Complaints include allegations of sexual assault, medical negligence and angry exchanges between doctors and patients in surgeries. Just last week, a viral video of a doctor abusing patients in a public hospital in Negeri Sembilan caused public outcry about standards of professionalism among doctors in Malaysia.
The rise in complaints against doctors has been matched by an increase in concern about the obstacles patients face in gaining access to justice. Doctors, the MMC and the authorities have been accused of closing ranks to cover up clinical negligence. Allegations of intimidation of patients, threats of legal action against patients bringing complaints and incompetence in the prosecution of doctors are also common.
In one case a patient who complained of sexual assault by a doctor was herself slapped with charges of criminal defamation, but was vindicated when the charges were dropped by the AG chambers at the last minute. In a separate case, a doctor was granted a discharge not amounting to an acquittal when the public prosecutor failed to provide the proper papers in court to continue with his prosecution for sexual misconduct.
Another case of medical negligence brought by the family of former Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi was recently dismissed by the appeal court. According to the appeal court judge Justice Hamid, it was abusive to charge a professional doctor under the Penal Code for culpable homicide.
The Galen Center, a health policy think-tank based in Kuala Lumpur, quoted a lawyer familiar with MMC practices and currently representing one rape and two sexual harassment cases at the MMC saying that cases never move and that it was pointless for patients to go there. The same CodeBlue article provided a defence of MMC by council member Dr Milton Lum who is also a director of Medical Defence Malaysia (MDM) which pays doctors legal fees and costs at MMC.
In 2018, soon after his appointment as Health Minister, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad was forced to circumvent the MMC process to suspend an orthopaedic department head described as a “sexual predator” using the Public Service Commission (SPA) regulations rather than the MMC regulations. The suspension allowed the authorities, including the Health Ministry, to investigate and report to SPA for the termination of his services without the need for an MMC inquiry.
The allegations of corruption against MMC are wide ranging. In one case an entire inquiry committee resigned following a referral to the MACC. Systemic conflicts of interest are alleged in which doctors on disciplinary committees work with, or even employ, the doctors they are investigating or are paid by the insurance companies that cover the legal costs of the accused doctors.
In one case reported by Asia Sentinel, a committee chairman and the government law officer advising the investigation were recorded using abusive language against the complainant and agreeing to manipulate evidence in the inquiry to, “get this thing done sneakily.”
Even the former President of MMC , Mohd Ismail Merican has complained of systemic malpractice on the MMC governing council and there are separate allegations that the dominance of foreign-owned private hospitals and the UKM medical department are bringing the independence of the MMC into doubt and damaging its reputation for integrity and impartiality.
In reply to the allegations against MMC Anwar said, “If there are specific allegations of gross misappropriation of funds or abuse or neglect, then the MACC must come in and I take it that is my position”
Responding to claims that the Minister of Health, Dzulkefly bin Ahmad and the President of MMC, Noor Hisham bin Abdullah, who is also the Director General for Health, have remained silent on the allegations in the local and international media, Anwar said, “I will of course, either today or tomorrow, speak with the Minister of Health about the specific allegations and ask him to find out more. But meanwhile, the MACC should not wait.”
So far there is no response from the Ministry of Health, Dzulkefly or the MMC on the corruption allegations in the MMC.