DAP on Health Services and Environment

Speech by DAP Member of Parliament for Bandar Melaka, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, in the Dewan Ra’ayat during the Committee of Supply 1972 on the Ministry of Health on 1st February 1972

DAP calls for
(i) a more human, sympathetic and efficient health service;
(ii) inquiry into water pollution in Klang

I refer to B. 26 Pechahan-kepala Kod 1100 (3) where $68.5 million is set aside for patient care services.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, one of the most unsatisfactory aspects of the public hospital service in Malaysia is the attitude of the hospital staff to patients, the sick and the members of the public.

In most parts of the country, the people regard the hospital as a ‘death house’ where they go to, or send their near ones to, only in the last resort.

It is vital that the government seriously study the reasons for this prevalent public attitude, and take steps to remove it. For public hospitals, which the public spend so much money every year to maintain, must be institutions of human warmth where the public, in particular the poor, can go to in times of sickness or injury, and not be cold, inhuman ‘death houses’.

The government must take positive steps to create an atmosphere of trust and confidence in the general hospital among the public, so that they can fully perform their role as centres to cure the ills and diseases of the poor and sick.

To do this, the Ministry of health must instill into the minds of the hospital staffs, including doctors, that they must ever be sympathetic and courteous in their handling of human relations with the sick and the poor, and not treat them as nothing more than chattels or a nuisance.

The Ministry should also take steps to prevent incidents of gross derelictions of duty or inhuman handling of the problems of the sick, which can only further undermine public confidence in the general hospitals and the country’s medical and health service.

I will give an instance in Malacca to illustrate my point.

On September 14, 1971, a housewife, Madam Chong Lan Jin, 27, was taken by her rubber-tapper husband to the Batang Melaka Salvation Army clinic as she was seriously ill.

After treating Madam Chong, the Salvation Army nurse told the rubber-tapper husband that his wife was seriously ill and should be taken to Malacca General Hospital immediately for hospitalization. The nurse also wrote a letter of recommendation for hospitalization.

The rubber tapper husband, Mr. Foo Kiang, immediately hired a taxi and rushed his wife from the Batang Melaka Salvation Army clinic to the Malacca General Hospital about 30 miles away.

On arrival at the Malacca General Hospital at about 9.45 a.m. Madam Chong was refused hospitalization on the grounds that she was not seriously ill, despite the Salvation Army clinic’s letter of recommendation.

Mr. Foo Kiang had to take his wife back to Batang Melaka and again contacted the Salvation Army nurse. It was only after the Salvation Army nurse accompanied the sick Madam Chong down to Malacca General Hospital in the evening that the Madam Chong was admitted into the hospital.

Madam Chong, who was pregnant, gave birth to a baby boy on September 16 at about 2 a.m., and she died at 10 p.m. the same day. The baby also died. The cause of death was cerebral malaria.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, it is clear that the Malacca General Hospital and the Ministry of Health owe the public an explanation why the hospital refused to admit a patient when there was a letter of recommendation for hospitalization by the Salvation Army clinic.

There is also duty on the part of the authorities concerned to explain whether Madam Chong’s death was in anyway contributed to by the refusal on the part of the hospital authorities to hospitalize Madam Chong on the morning of September 14, causing her to rush back to Batang Melaka and back again when in a state of grave illness. We also want to know what action has been taken against the officers concerned.

I have written a letter to the then Minister of Health calling for investigations to be made into this case, and although I have received a letter from the Ministry stating that they are to looking into the matter, I still do not know what is the result of Ministry actions five months after the event.

Another case of death

Mr. Chairman, Sir, on July 7, last year, another woman tapper from Batang Melaka, Madam Ong Kwee Hian, was bicycling to work in Ayer Kuning Estate with her husband in the early hours of the morning, when she fell and sustained severe head injuries.

Her husband took her to the near-by Tampin General Hospital, and he was advised by the medical officer that her condition was very serious and that he should take her to the Malacca General Hospital about 30 miles away.

Despite the husband’s repeated pleas, the Tampin General Hospital authorities refused to send Madam Ong to the Malacca General Hospital by its ambulance, on the ground that Tampin is in Negri Sembilan, and that the ambulance could not cross state borders.

In desperation, the husband had to pawn the wife’s necklace to get expenses to hire a taxi to Malacca General Hospital. The wife died before arrival at the Malacca General Hospital, about four hours after the fall.

This inhuman, heartless and callous refusal on the part of the Tampin General Hospital authorities to allow its ambulance to rush Madam Chong to Malacca General Hospital is shocking.

A life was lost because some hospital staff stood on red tape, bureaucratism and the utter lack of human feeling. The rule that ambulances cannot cross state borders even to save human lives, if there is such a rule, is the most inhuman and disgusting government rule I have come across. Whoever made that rule should be dismissed from service, in fact, dismissed from the pale of civilized society.

What calls for explanation also is why the Tampin hospital authorities, assuming they are bound by red tape, could not rush Madam Ong to the Seremban General Hospital – considering the gravity of her condition.

I expect the Minister of health, in his reply, also to give this House and the nation a satisfactory explanation.

In the Batu Pahat general hospital recently, a Malay driver took his child to hospital for treatment. When the child was given an injection and the syringe pulled out, the needle remained in the child’s body. The matter was hushed up by the intervention of very high health Ministry officials.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, with those such like incidents of utter callousness, indifference and inhumanity, no wonder the public have such a low opinion for general hospitals and only go there as a last resort – even for the poor.

If the money we are voting for patients care are not to be wasted, then the Ministry of Health must immediately attend to this problem and start building up public confidence in the general hospitals and the staff. The Minister’s reply to the examples I have listed will show whether there is this will and desire to reform the medical services in the country.

Call for expansion of beds, wards and doctors for Malacca General Hospital

While on patients care service, I would call on the Minister of Health to give priority to expand the number of beds, wards, staff and doctors of the Malacca General Hospital as it is grossly understaffed and greatly cramped of space and beds.

The sick and the diseased are literally sleeping on the floors and have no blankets, and many even don’t have medicine.

The hospital in Malacca does not cater only to the town of Malacca, but to the whole of the State of Malacca. It also caters to the people of Segamat, in Johore who send their serious cases to Malacca.

I therefore call for early provision to increase the facilities and expand the number of beds, wards, staff and doctors in Malacca General Hospital to provide a competent medical service.

Call for inquiry into Water Pollution in Kluang Town

Finally, Mr. Chairman, Sir, I want to touch on B. 26, Pechahan Kepala Kod. 1100 (2) on Public Health Services where we are asked to approve $32.5 million for West Malaysia.

During the Second Reading, I raised the grave problem of the pollution of the water supply of 50000 people in to Kluang town in Johore by the contamination of the water supply by a textile factory, Malaysian Textile Industry.

This factory is the Malaysian Textile Industries which uses water from the Kluang catchment area and discharges 300000 gallons of effluent water a day, polluted by dyestuffs and other chemicals which can cause long-term cancer.

In fact, in September last year, the water was so contaminated that the water supply turned reddish for three days, and which had to be used as drinking water by the people of Kluang.

I regret that the Minister of health evaded a reply when he wound up. May be he thought that the future of 50000 people in Kluang being cancer-ridden is not an important thing but a trivial matter.

However, last Friday, the Minister of Health was pinpointed on the issue on question time. What did we hear?

There was no sense of urgency and gravity of the problem of water pollution with its cancer threat for 50000 people.

All that we are told is that his Ministry officials had received an assurance from the Malaysian Textile Industries that it would not colour the water supply in Kluang.

When I pressed him what action his Ministry had taken for the past pollution, in particular the September days when the water turned red, the Minister said he was not responsible for what happened in the past.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, if not for the fact that the Hon’ ble Minister had just taken over the Ministry of Health for a month, and I would want him to have a chance to prove himself, I would have moved a censure motion against him for his incompetence, irresponsibility and dereliction of duty.

In other countries, where is a great public concern over pollution, there would be a public outcry for his resignation.

Mr. Chairman, Sir, I hope that no Minister would ever come to this House and blithely disclaim responsibility for what happened in his Ministry, even before his own appointment, he should have caused investigations to be made and appropriate action taken, if these were not done before.

If a Minister could disclaim responsibility for what happened before his personal appointment, then it would make nonsense of the principle of Ministerial responsibility and accountability.

The 50000 people of Kluang have a right to expect firm action of the Health Ministry to immediately put a stop the to the water pollution by the MTI. The question is not just a colouring of water, but dumping chemical dyes into the water.

The MTI can take steps to prevent colouring the water, but this does not stop pollution. It is only a big deception, which no responsible elected government of the people should condone.

Let not the people of Kluang and the country conclude that the MTI could get away with such anti-social and anti-people behaviour just because its Chairman is the MCA strongman in Johore, and State Executive Councillor, Dato Tan Peng Khoon, and whose subscribers include into Dato Chua Song Lim, another MCA Executive Councillor, the Dato Haji Othman bin Haji Mahamed Sa’at, the Mentri Besar of Johore, the MCA Multi-Purpose Co-operative Society of which Mr. Lee San Choon is Chairman, and other Alliance and MCA bigwigs.

Let us have firm government action to stop the pollution in Kluang. Stop the production of the MTI unless it could carry out its production without polluting the water supply. After all, the factory was built, and had been in operation, without plan approval.

I will not allow this matter to rest unless the water pollution in Kluang is brought to an end.