KUALA LUMPUR: As the country continues to battle the Covid-19 pandemic, rumours are afloat that Health Director-General Tan Sri Dr Noor Hisham Abdullah may no longer be in charge of the ongoing battle.
A number of his decisions were overturned while his deputies are now reporting directly to the Prime Minister, sources was quoted as saying as reported by The Vibes.
They revealed that friction between top guns at the ministry, namely Dr Noor Hisham and secretary-general Datuk Mohd Shafiq Abdullah, over policy decisions related to the management of the Covid-19 pandemic have spilled over to the Prime Minister’s Office.
The friction, among others, has resulted in the subsequent formation of the Greater Klang Valley Task Force headed by Deputy Health Director-General (Public Health) Datuk Dr Chong Chee Keong.
In heading the task force, the source noted that Dr Chong will be answerable only to Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
This is unprecedented given the circumstance and hierarchy within the civil and health services.
“Dr Noor Hisham is very insistent in his decision-making. It’s either his way or the highway,” the source said.
“In medical terms, he is very surgical in his approach, given his background as a surgeon. As such, many parties including those in the National Security Council (NSC) were unhappy with his methods.
“As far as decisions are concerned, the buck stops with him.”
The source added that the removal of Dr Noor Hisham was considered, but was shelved so as not to dent the public’s perception.
Furthermore, ministry officials had steadfastly defended Dr Noor Hisham against critics following a surge in Covid-19 infections due to the Sabah elections in September last year.
Among the criticisms laid against Dr Noor Hisham concerned the decision not to quarantine those who returned to the peninsula following the state polls.
However, Dr Noor Hisham was said to have opposed the holding of the elections due to the pandemic, and then the campaigning and the immediate return of politicians and their supporters to the peninsula without quarantine.
His suggestion to reduce Covid-19 cases via blanket lockdown, especially on businesses and factories, despite the lack of cases within the particular area, has also been criticised.
“It is not that his suggestions are bad but there are so many considerations to be made.
“Like it or not, there needs to be a balance for both lives and livelihoods, and the government is trying its best to reach it,” the source said.
Other matters indicative of the turmoil in MoH concern the management of personnel, the administration and operations of hospitals, and the well-being of its staff.
For instance, the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) director Datuk Dr Heric Corray, who retired on July 16, was due for a contract extension approved by Dr Noor Hisham but had this withdrawn at the last minute due to decisions made by ministry officials.
Dr Corray, who performed a sterling job of managing the hospital’s Covid-19 and non-Covid-19 patients was subsequently replaced by Dr Rohana Johan, who was previously Serdang Hospital director.
In Sabah, the sudden replacement of Datuk Dr Christina Rundi as state health director with public health specialist Dr Rose Nani Mudin last week also sparked rumours of bureaucracy within the ministry.
Furthermore, questions are abound about the commencement of the Cyberjaya hospital.
Located in Cyber 11, the hospital was supposed to start in late last year.
However, pandemic-induced delays led Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba to announce on May 11 that the hospital’s 42 ventilator units, two mobile X-ray machine units, one ultrasound unit, and 20 intensive care beds would be sent to Sg Buloh Hospital, Serdang Hospital, Tengku Ampuan Rahimah Hospital (HTAR) in Klang, and HKL to treat Covid-19 patients.
Dr Adham had assured that the Cyberjaya hospital would be up and running by June 15, but this also did not happen.
Another thorny matter involves the future of contract doctors which remains unsolved.
Dr Adham had promised a solution following a meeting with the Malaysian Medical Association’s Section Concerning House Officers, Medical Officers, and Specialists (MMA-Schomos), but nothing decisive so far.
The Hartal Doktor Kontrak movement, representing a group of disgruntled doctors and health workers, remains keen on staging a one-day walkout on July 26, despite risks of them getting sacked.
These issues are being used to illustrate Dr Noor Hisham’s inability to control doctors, said sources.
“This is a sad state of affairs. Last year, we were doing well because the government wisely allowed the civil service to take the lead in battling the pandemic,” said a senior government medical official.
“Then it all went downhill after the Sabah elections and now the politicians are in charge.”