PETALING JAYA: Government contract doctors proceeded with their planned walkout from hospitals nationwide to protest against the lack of job security and career progression.
The "Hartal Doktor Kontrak" (Contract Doctor Hartal) involved medical officers on contract and included pharmaceutical officers and dental officers who are asking for permanent positions in the public service under the Health Ministry.
Many states had contract doctors walking out from 11am yesterday.
Among the hospitals were Hospital Sungai Buloh, Selayang Specialist Hospital, Hospital Kuala Lumpur, Klang's Hospital Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital, Hospital Shah Alam, Hospital Melaka, Hospital Raja Perempuan Zainab II in Kota Baru, Hospital Tuanku Jaafar in Seremban, Hospital Sultanah Aminah Johor Baru, Hospital Sultanah Nora Ismail in Batu Pahat, Hospital Tuanku Fauziah in Kangar, as well as Queen Elizabeth Hospital 1 and Sabah Women and Children Hospital Likas in Kota Kinabalu.
The contract medical officers handed over their duties in the wards to their colleagues before walking out, with some groups standing in the hot sun in carparks.
Organisers said they would have returned to their wards if their patients needed them.
A group of medical officers at Hospital Shah Alam wore black and carried placards stating, "We want career security" and "Justice for 23K contract doctors".
One of the doctors interviewed said most of their supervisors were supportive of the walkout.
"We do not want to be temporary forever. How long do we have to be on contract and be insecure? We are the future," said the doctor.
Another said contract doctors had no choice but to protest as some were nearing the end of their contracts.
A medical officer said they wanted clear outlines on who could be hired as permanent staff and noted the limited number of Federal Training Awards offered to doctors who wanted to pursue specialisation.
"What happens to those pursuing parallel pathways? Are there any other job appraisals or parallel pathways to get permanent posts? When we get a master's degree, how many jobs are there?
"A majority of us will be laid off. Why a contract extension for those pursuing their master's degree and not permanency?" he added.
Hartal Doktor Kontrak spokesperson Dr Umar Baraka said he was among the first batch of contract doctors who were now in their fifth year.
"We have tried to discuss (this before) but there has been no solution. We were offered sweets after five years. We are not rats.
"It's not fair that we are treated this way. Making us permanent does not disturb the government's budget.
"Our directors and heads of departments did not allow us to be here but we are here. If we walk away, who will treat the patients?" he said.
Another group of doctors in Melaka walked out to the carpark carrying placards saying, "We are your future specialists" and "Tetap, bukan kontrak" (Permanent, not contract).
Another group of 30 held a silent protest at the main entrance of Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun in Ipoh.
In Sabah, two doctors walked out of Queen Elizabeth Hospital 1 holding placards saying, "We are your future specialists" and "H contract".
In Johor Baru, 30 individuals walked out from Hospital Sultanah Aminah for 20 minutes under the watchful eyes of the police.
A similar walkout took place at Hospital Sultan Ismail and other government hospitals in the state.
In Seremban, some 40 medical officers held a peaceful protest outside a building housing the specialist clinics at Hospital Tuanku Ja'afar.
Dr Muhamad Azim Mohd Sahari, 28, said some 150 medical officers were supposed to have taken part but most of them were on duty.
"We did not leave our patients unattended. Those present here either had the day off or had just completed the night shift," he added.
Last Friday, Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government had agreed to provide contract medical officers, dentists and pharmacists with career opportunities on par with permanent medical officers.
He also announced other benefits such as fully paid study leave, but did not address the group's demand for permanent positions for all current government contract workers.
The government, in response to the group's demands, offered to extend their contracts to a minimum of four years.
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