‘Unhealthy’ work hours a concern among trainee docs

14 Jan 2019 / 13:30 H.

WHEN Isa (not his real name) decided to take up medical studies, little did he know he would be spending between 16 and18 hours in the hospital each day when he began his housemanship.

Almost as soon as he started his housemanship, Isa had the experience of working more than 16 hours a day – a shift that starts before 7am and ends way after 10pm.

He had heard similar stories of long working hours before, but thought things would be different when he joined as a houseman about a year and a half ago, after the Health Ministry announced a new shift system.

The new system has been implemented, but apparently, the long hours at work that housemen have to endure still remains.

“Under this new system, housemen need to officially work 65 hours a week, with two different shifts and only a day off. The first is from 7am to 7pm (12 hours), and the other from 7am to 10pm (15 hours),” he told theSun, on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

“But the reality is we are being made to work over 80 hours a week. Mind you, we always have to clock in at least an hour earlier and often only get to leave an hour later. We need to do patient reviews, before presenting them to the medical officers (MO). And depending on the department you are placed in, sometimes you will even need to come in at 4.30am.

“What’s more, we have to put in at least an extra hour after work, sometimes more if there are new cases. We end our work days like zombies, and are not paid any overtime because it is considered training,” he said.

Add this to the time needed for him to commute to and from his home, he would barely have five to seven hours to himself on some days, which is hardly enough time for him to get sufficient sleep and rest.

Any way you look at it, the working hours demanded of housemen are well over the 48-hours per week as stipulated in the Employment Act.

And Isa is only one of a long list of trainee doctors nationwide who are experiencing such work conditions.

“Sometimes I wonder why they don’t just recruit more housemen since the ministry continuously claims there is a backlog in placements for medical graduates at public hospitals,” he said.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad recently said the backlog was partly due to the number of applications received, as the country produces about 5,000 medical graduates yearly, but only 3,400 students are absorbed.

Meanwhile, several other housemen who requested anonymity, refuted claims by Health director-general Datuk Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah’s (pix) that despite having to work 12 hours a day, the housemen would have sufficient breaks in between.

According to some housemen, they did not even have time to have their meals and breaks, and that their first meal of the day would sometimes come only after they completed their night shifts.

“Some departments are a bit busy, and we don’t have time to rest. I often even have to postpone my day prayers until the night when I’m done with work,” one of them said.

“Please remember, that even for tagging the MO, we have to be on our feet and walk all over the department or wards,” said another.

It is understood that most young doctors are fearful of blowing the whistle on their exploitation for fear of being victimised as they need to pass their housemanship before they can practise on their own.

So what are the reasons for the long hours they need to endure, these young doctors wonder. Is there a shortage of new doctors? Is the government so short of funds that it cannot afford to employ more?

Whatever it is, doctors should stop being exploited because of the dangers arising from their critical jobs.