Doctors appalled by Health Ministry’s bid to jail those refusing patients’ request for drugs

Justin Ong
MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran says the inclusion of possible jail terms for private medical doctors, dental surgeons and veterinarians who do not comply to requests for prescriptions by patients is totally inappropriate. — Picture by Hari Anggara

KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 29 — The Health Ministry’s proposed amendments to the Poisons Act that would introduce prison terms for physicians who do not comply with patients’ requests for medication has alarmed the Malaysian Medical Association (MMA).

The group said the proposed imprisonment for the service refusal was wholly disproportionate to the offence, which it said would be an ethics violation at its worst.

“The inclusion of possible jail terms for private medical doctors, dental surgeons and veterinarians who do not comply to requests for prescriptions by patients is totally inappropriate.

“Such severe & harsh penalties should only be meted out for offences that may result in severe consequences,” MMA president Dr N. Ganabaskaran said in a statement.

Dr Ganabaskaran also expressed the MMA’s alarm over another amendment to the Act to introduce so-called electronic prescriptions or “e-prescriptions”, which would allow digital signatures to be accepted by pharmacists fulfilling medical prescriptions.

Arguing that online healthcare was a complex topic that required careful and considered solutions to ensure patients’ safety and wellbeing, he said there was virtually no safeguards built into the proposal that was also drafted without input from the medical community.

“The legalising of E Prescriptions without these regulations in place open up the potential for unethical and dangerous practice whereby patients may be given E prescriptions without proper examinations,” he said.

The MMA president questioned the apparent rush with which the amendments were being introduced, and suggested that there might be commercial motivations in the moves.

Dr Ganabaskaran concluded by urging the government to withdraw the amendments in order for comprehensive consultations with all stakeholders in the interest of public safety.

Health Minister Datuk Seri Dzulkefly Ahmad tabled the amendments in Parliament on Monday that proposed penalising doctors, dentists, and veterinarians with a maximum fine of RM3,000, up to a year’s imprisonment, or both for refusing medication that patients request.

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