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2009 Apr 13 - Health Ministry mulls SMC takeover

Health Ministry mulls SMC takeover

Kota Kinabalu, Apr 13, 2009: Health Ministry experts have completed an apparently exhaustive evaluation of the Sabah Medical Centre building, facilities and services in the Damai area of Luyang in Kota Kinabalu pending a takeover decision by the federal government within six months. The SMC is a premier private hospital which is the first to operate in the state.

"The property under consideration would become the new Queen Elizabeth II General Hospital for Kota Kinabalu," according to a spokesperson for SMC.

QEH II has been stricken since last October after its Tower Block was declared unsafe – due to extensive corrosion of the structure which employed sea sand - and the hospital decanted. The ministry, judging from public records, knew about the problem years in advance but apparently chose to sit on its hands until the Tower Block was on the point of imminent collapse.

However, the SMC spokesperson could not shed any light on when the evaluation and inspection was completed and when the six months deadline would expire, a point castigated by Sabah People's Progressive Party (Sapp), among others, in its website.

Sapp information chief Chong Pit Fah, in a brief telephone call, did not want to be drawn into public speculation that the SMC wants to put public pressure on the ministry to speed up the purchase of their property, facilities and services but added "of course they want to sell". It has been more than six months since it was decanted, he noted. "There are too many stories surrounding the on-going tragedy of the general hospital since it was decanted."

The ministry is currently purchasing facilities and services at SMC for the GH as well as drawing on the resources of other private and government hospitals in the state besides flying urgent cases to Kuching, Kuala Lumpur and Penang.

The SMC spokesperson, explaining the public disclosure of the talks with the ministry, stressed that his medical centre merely “wants to put to rest the endless public speculation on the matter.”

Furthermore, "erroneous" reporting by the media – in the absence of active co-operation from some of the stakeholders – has compounded the problem and created "an image problem" for SMC in the minds of the public, according to the spokesperson. Hence, it was time to reveal some official details.

Most efficient option

The spokesperson did not dwell too much on the specifics of the erroneous reporting beyond disputing the figures mentioned for the purchase of the SMC and pointing out that there is no old and new SMC, only one SMC. In short, getting into semantics if not splitting hairs, SMC has never been sold in the past and the question of selling the SMC in future does not also arise.

"The proposed plan includes provision of 300 in-patient beds, 29 ICU (Intensive Care Unit) beds, two cardiac operating theatres, two cardiac laboratories, five operating theatres and all the relevant facilities, at the same time allowing QEH to carry out its expansion plans in line with MoH specifications and requirements," said the SMC spokesman getting into the details of the inspection and evaluation.

"And within two years, SMC will be handing over to the MoH, a tertiary care hospital that is equipped with 450 beds including 43 ICU beds, 12 operating theatres, two cardiac laboratories, a complete range of specialist departments, all the required hospital back-up facilities, besides a fully-equipped heart centre and more than 500 parking bays."

The spokesperson stressed that "based on our knowledge and experience", the purchase of the SMC property could be the most efficient option for the ministry to obtain an additional 300 beds within six months and an additional 450 beds in 24 months.

"If the said proposed plan is implemented it would completely address the ongoing crisis in QEH within six months. This includes the shortage of 265 inpatient beds at QEH. SMC is a readily-available, professionally designed-and-built hospital whose design has taken into consideration the requirements of the medical profession and that of the patients and their families."

The spokesperson gave an assurance that "the price to be offered by SMC would definitely be lower compared to the cost of private hospital projects built in the past by the government." There have been reports in the recent past that the ministry's takeover of the SMC property in Luyang is dependent on the state government forking out half the purchase cost. The state government sees no reason for this since health is a federal matter, according to reliable sources in the know.

He described it as a gross insult to SMC and its management who are being portrayed in public by the media as "some sort of merchandise that is up for grabs in the market." It was never the intention of the SMC to be built with the possibility of later selling it to the government, added the spokesperson, "but to provide the best medical facilities to the public," citing its state-of-the-art design, supported by the best equipment, professional manpower and services that money can buy.

RM50mil boutique hospital

SMC's relationship with the ministry and QEH has been long established, the spokesperson pointed out, including the provision of such services like heart surgery, cardiovascular treatment and radiotherapy which were not available at the general hospital.

"Within three days of the decanting of QEH, we made available two floors of our wards to the GH, nine ICU beds, three operating theatres and all relevant services including creating a dedicated entrance and waiting area for the convenience of client's medical staff, patients and their families," said the spokesperson dispelling the notion that SMC did not want the riff-raff mixing with their well-heeled patients.

"It was during this period that the ministry expressed an interest in purchasing our ready-made property, facilities and services."

It has been reported by doctors in the know in the medical community that the SMC plans to build a new RM50 million boutique hospital near the Sutera Harbour Resort, a stone's throw from the popular CentrePoint Sabah Shopping Complex near downtown Kota Kinabalu, should the sale of its Luyang premises go ahead.

The SMC premises in Luyang was built for RM150 million and a figure of RM400 million has been conservatively mentioned for the purchase of the property, facilities and services including the cost of turning it from a five-star private hospital into the open ward system of government hospitals.

To build an entirely brand new conventional government hospital – an outdated concept with the emergence of dedicated centres of medical excellence - would cost up to RM1 million per bed including the facilities that go with it, according to Dr Anil Kumar Kukreja, a former acting state health director.

The SMC shifted into its present premises after disposing its old premises in Likas for RM150 million to the ministry which has since turned it into the Likas Women's Hospital. The Likas property was built during the time of chief minister Harris Salleh (1976-85) for RM5 million, according to public records. (by Joe Fernandez)

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SAPP Policies

SAPP's 17 point Manifesto - Sabah deserves better in terms of more equitable distribution of opportunities, in social, economic and infrastructural development and a better quality of life. [BM][Chinese]

SAPP's Economic Plan for Sabah - SAPP aims to achieve economic prosperity and financial self-reliance for Sabah. Version in [BM] [Chinese]

SAPP's Land Reform Policy - To promote and protect the rights and interests of local natives and other citizens in Sabah [BM][Chinese]

On Oil Royalty - SAPP is not giving up its struggle for more oil royalty payment for Sabah.

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