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Media statement by Dr. Hiew King Cheu in Kota Kinabalu on Monday, 21st November 2011:

Shortage of pharmacist and cut-short training

The serious shortage of trained and qualified pharmacist in the country and especially in Sabah was brought up by me in Parliament recently. I also asked the Federal Assistant Minister of Health Datuk Rosnah Binti Haji Abd Rashid Shirin on the impact of reducing the training period from the original 1+3 to only 1+1, and whether this short training period can produce quality and qualified pharmacist to serve the people.

The reply stated that there are 8,917 pharmacists who are registered and serving in the private and public sectors in the country as up to date. The ratio is 1:3,400 people, and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended 1:2000 people only. This shows that we are indeed lack of pharmacist to serve the people and it is estimated 5,000 pharmacists short in Malaysia. In developed country, they have a ratio of 1:1000 only. The Ministry of Health has appointed some 4,568 pharmacists from the private sector to work with the Ministry from 2001 until 2010, and 923 had been appointed in 2010.

The previous training period for the pharmacists was 1+3 as from 2004, that is one year training plus 3 years practical service before they can be qualified to go into full service as a pharmacist. Now this is reduced to 1+1, and it is one year training and one year practical service. They can receive their practical service in private pharmacies, hospitals and other private institutions. The shortage is also due to the old salary scales where the pharmacists would prefer to work more in the private sectors. Now they choose to work with the government because we have a better opportunity installed, better allowances, and good promotion scheme. Before, there was only 20% of them working with the government, and 80% of them were in private sector. Now it is changed to 60 % in government service and only 40% in private sector.

The situation on the lack of pharmacists in the country is still unsatisfactory and have not see any positive improvement especially in the Sabah rural districts. There are no pharmacists or even pharmacies in the rural clinics, and usually the nurses have to dispense medication to the patients. By pinching pharmacists from the private sectors and offering them higher salary scales, special allowances and good promotion to work in the government is not a long term solution. The reduced training and practical service period may be able to help to ease the shortages, but this should not be at the cost of the people.

I was told that many pharmaceutical services have been privatized to companies within the hospitals, and of course this had 'cured' part of the shortages, but still the huge shortage remains. The Health Ministry must open up more courses in the local universities, and to encourage and allow more students from all races to enter the profession. The government has to send student under scholarship scheme to oversea universities to produce more graduates to fill the shortages in our hospitals and clinics. It is the government's fault and bad planning for deal with the shortage during the past many years. If they had catered and anticipated this shortage of the pharmacists in Malaysia and Sabah, our patient would not have to suffer further and faced the agony of the long queue to wait for their medicines. The hospital also asked patient to purchase their medication from outside, which cost more and caused inconveniences. Therefore, the Health Ministry must come up with a plan to address this pressing issue on the shortage of pharmacists once for all.

* Dr Hiew King Cheu, MP for Kota Kinabalu



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