By Dr Kelvin Yii
I URGE the federal government and Health Ministry to expand the special allowance of RM600 to cover a larger group of healthcare workers who are also part of the “ecosystem” of management of Covid-19 patients including emergency and trauma department (ETD) doctors, hospital cleaners, pharmacists, essential medical supplies logistics coordinators, psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and even counsellors.
A recent circular released by the Health Ministry to detail which public healthcare workers can qualify for the full special allowance states those who are directly involved in the Covid-19 management and have worked at least 15 days in one calendar month. This, of course, covers doctors, nurses, medical assistants, assistant environmental health officers, X-ray technicians, medical laboratory assistants, public health assistants and many others directly involved in the chain of management in handling and curbing the Covid-19 outbreak.
While I strongly welcome such incentives as a show of appreciation to our healthcare workers who risk their own and even own family’s safety to make sure we are cared for and protected, there are some other healthcare workers who in my view are also part of the whole management ecosystem that has fallen between the cracks and may not qualify for such incentives.
For example, we were informed that an emergency department doctor may not qualify for the allowance as they are not considered as part of the Covid-19 team, even though they expose themselves to risks when they see patients day in and day out including respiratory infection patients that may carry the Covid-19 virus as well. We hear of news on how some patients were not truthful with their history to the doctors, thus exposing them to the virus. This is why now ETD workers often wear protective gear when they see patients.
Only if there is a suspected Covid-19 patient, the ETD doctors will then send them to the “Covid-19 area” but they are not stationed there every time thus may not qualify for the full allowance which requires them to be there for at least 15 days in a month. Some doctors and medical workers also go through weekly rotations in these areas and may not be stationed for at least 15 days in this area to qualify for the full allowance, but it does not mean they don’t deserve to be rewarded for their efforts and hard work.
I believe doctors, housemen, medical assistants and staff nurse in the ETD should also qualify for this allowance as they are also exposed to the risk of such patients before they are triaged to the Covid-19 stations or even in emergency situations, need to intubate such patients thus exposing them to the risk of the infection.
On top of that, other medical workers that may not qualify but are also part of the ecosystem of the management for Covid-19 such as pharmacists or officers who may be involved in the procurement of medical equipment and medicine and essentials such as PPEs and other protective gear. While they may not be directly exposed to patients, their services are important to ensure such supplies and equipment are sent to the hospital and clinics so others are protected. Pharmacists may also risk exposing themselves when dispensing medicines to possible Covid-19 patients especially asymptomatic ones.
The special allowance may also include psychiatrists, clinical psychologists and counsellors that play an important role now especially to offer psychiatric first aid (PFA) not just to patients and their family, but also frontliners who are facing burn out and high stress due to the intense period. Experts have even predicted that mental health cases will see a significant increase during this time especially with families dealing with loss, “spreader or even survivor’s guilt” or even economic difficulties due to the impact of the virus.
Another important group that misses out are the hospital cleaners and support service staff. Why are these blue-collar workers not prioritised even though they play an important role to sanitise and clean wards and hospitals to make sure the virus does not spread further even in a hospital setting. They themselves also risk being exposed due to the lack of PPEs being supplied to them.
While I strongly welcome the allowance given to those directly involved in the management of Covid-19, I urge the government to address some of the loopholes and extend the coverage to those who are working hard to make sure the whole ecosystem of management of Covid-19 runs efficiently as a sign of appreciation for their hard work during this war against the “unseen”.
Dr Kelvin Yii is the Bandar Kuching MP and had recovered from Covid-19. This letter first appeared in Malaysiakini.