For those of you who are quick to criticise government hospitals, please allow me to share some positive insights.
I know there are people who seek treatment at government hospitals and grumble endlessly.
Government hospitals may not be perfect, but there are so many of us who seek treatment for all sorts of ailments there. Sometimes, these ailments require prolonged treatment, which requires the patients to be warded.
Jay, a retired businessman, had sought treatment for diabetes many years ago. He is still going back to the same hospital for consultations, medication and follow-ups.
Jay can afford a private hospital. But he prefers a government hospital: “Saya sudah lama datang sini, Hospital Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia. (I’ve been here at HUKM for a long time). It’s very simple. I like going to the government hospital because the doctors are good and friendly and answer all questions about my diabetes.”
Then there is the case of Yong, who continues to seek treatment for various ailments and is still around enjoying life.
Yong’s ailments are basically respiratory. His routine of regular visits has kept him active, enabling him to pursue several physical exercises and do some travelling.
“I walk every day. My doctor wants me to exercise my lungs. I was lazy before and I smoked two packets of cigarettes a day.
“But my doctor has guided me very well and I’m no longer smoking. My doctor is kind and has time for me whenever I go for follow-ups,” Yong said.
Both Yong and Jay are in their late 50s. They were in the outpatient department accompanied by their wives waiting for their turn to see their doctors.
I looked around at the waiting area. All seats were taken. Everyone was waiting for their turn. I made an effort to understand the routine. The first thing a patient needs to do is to register himself. And wait.
When your name is called, you will be advised where to go and who to see.
The receptionists will call out your name loudly and patiently. You will be given a number and wait for your turn.
I noticed that patients are mostly friendly and helpful. An old lady walked in carrying an umbrella.
A man gave up his seat for the old lady, who sat down with a smile. There are not enough seats. One couple brought their preschool child, who was crying.
A few grandmas gathered around the couple, helping them to calm the child. It was obvious the child was in some kind of pain.
One of the grandmas went up to the hospital staff and gave her number so that the child could be treated first.
It doesn’t work that way. But the kind thought of that lady didn’t go unnoticed. Another hospital staff came out from her cubicle to tend to the sick child.
I then met a long-time patient of HUKM who gave an interesting account of his long relationship with the hospital.
Tommy didn’t want to tell me what ailed him. But he seemed to know many of the hospital staff, who were friendly with him.
Tommy said: “Please remember one thing. Government hospitals are the most well-equipped medical centres in the country.
“On top of that, they have some of the best doctors you can find. I know this for a fact.
“Many of my family members go to private hospitals. I don’t mind really. If they can afford it, it’s their choice. But I will stick to my government hospital.
“I’m not saying that private hospitals are bad. I have some doctor friends, too, who have their clinics in private hospitals.
I’ve heard some scary stories about private hospitals, too, and they are mostly related to bills and payments,” said Tommy.
Government hospitals are forever busy and full of patients. The one biggest downside of this is the waiting time to see the doctor of the day. But once you get to see the doctor, you can ask the doctor anything you want.
Tommy said he has developed a good rapport with the doctors who treat him. The doctors also like patients who ask questions because they find the interaction useful, especially for prolonged cases.
Tommy’s advice: “If you come for treatment, be prepared to wait. It’s okay to wait because the doctors are good.”
The big number of patients, whom doctors at government hospitals get to treat, gives them a good opportunity to learn and treat different types of ailments.
Some of them earn a good reputation for this, which brings us to the question of these doctors being highly sought-after by private hospitals.
Not all of them are attracted by the private sector, but the temptation is always there. The government needs to have a truly attractive package to keep their doctors in service for as long as possible.
For patients like Jay, Yong and Tommy, government hospitals have kept them alive and productive.
Yes, the waiting can be long. But they have time on their side. More important than that, they respond well to the treatment.
The cost of treatment doesn’t burn a hole in their pocket, a fact that is increasingly important today.
The writer is a former NST group editor. His first column appeared on Aug 27, 1995 as ‘Kurang Manis’