PETALING JAYA: Lack of funds is driving some government hospitals to recycle single-use devices at the risk of patient safety, a highly placed source in the healthcare sector told FMT.
"This includes equipment used in neurosurgery to cardiology, and even in general surgeries. In cases where equipment used to be thrown away, doctors are now being asked to recycle the equipment."
The source gave the example of cardiac catheters, which are used inside blood vessels and are usually disposable, adding that the hospitals are also unable to repair faulty machinery due to the budget cuts imposed on the sector.
According to the source, the allocated budget was small to begin with, and the budget cuts are too big an amount to sustain.
"There was a cut of RM1 billion last year. So hospitals are going to get stuck with this as there has been a heavy increase in patients coming in from the private sector," he told FMT.
His comments followed a report by FMT yesterday that a 30% spike in patients using government healthcare instead of private was due to an increase in the cost of living, coupled with the goods and services tax (GST).
The source said such cost-saving measures posed a health risk to patients.
"What if the equipment was first used on a patient that had an infectious disease? It could easily spread to the next patient.
"This is why they list the item as disposable so that you only use it once."
Patients told to buy medication elsewhere
He said hospitals are also asking patients to buy medication and have their tests done externally due to financial constraints.
"All this has not been highlighted. Many patients are being told to do their tests outside the hospital, pay for it themselves and bring back their results to the hospital later.
"They claim that these are 'unnecessary' tests, but the truth is they just do not have the money."
To make matters worse, he said, hospitals could not repair machinery that had broken down or needed to be serviced.
"There are many hospitals that are encountering this. There are some machines that have not be repaired for up to a year. All these machines are vital for operations, like cardiac monitors which have broken down and there was no money to repair it.
"They probably have to wait until the next budget allocation before they can repair it."
If there was an emergency case, he said, hospitals would send the patient to another hospital that had a working machine.
Unfortunately, he added, hospitals had a waiting list for their machines, making this "a major mockery to the patients".
'Nobody is supposed to talk about it'
When asked if the medical fraternity had brought this up with the health ministry, he said there was "no such thing as talking to them about the budget".
"Nobody is supposed to talk about it. There's a gag order when it comes to the budget, from the staff right to the hospital director.
"But there is nothing the ministry can do as that is the budget the government has allocated for them."
According to the source, hospitals are also replacing original drugs with generic drugs in their efforts to save money.
"We are buying the cheapest drugs to save money. Wherever the supplier can offer a cheaper solution, they will take it."
A doctor who used to work at a government hospital in Selangor said she had witnessed first-hand the reuse of single-use devices.
The 32-year-old said the practice had started with the budget cuts in 2015.
"There are these paddings that you put on a patient's chest called defibrillation pads, which are meant for single use. But because there was no budget, we were asked to use them a couple of times.
"I have witnessed nebuliser masks and their tubing being reused despite being single-use items. We were just asked to wash them and reuse them for other patients."
'We don't know how many patients we couldn't save'
The doctor said there was often no money to repair or service the equipment in the hospital.
"We do not know how many people we couldn't save because we didn't have the equipment for them," she added.
"In certain months towards the end of the year, you are bound to run out of supplies and that is not supposed to happen.
"There was a time we couldn't intubate patients, especially babies, because we didn't have the right sized tubes for them.
"We went to the paediatric ward and they only had two pieces of tubing left and were begging us not to complain about it."