KUALA LUMPUR: Although thousands of children remain on the waiting list for corrective heart surgery, eight operating theatres (OTs) for cardiac surgery at Serdang Hospital remain unused for want of cardiothoracic surgeons and staff.
Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai said recently: "We don't have the experts. We don't have the manpower."
He said it was for this reason that the government had offered to send urgent paediatric heart cases to the Nara-yana Hrudayalaya Institute of Cardiac Sciences in Bangalore, India, for corrective surgery.
It had identified 200 children with complicated heart problems to be sent there soon for corrective surgery.
Liow said there was a need to send these children there for surgery as there are more than 300 infants on the Institut Jantung Negara's (IJN) waiting list.
This excludes the 3,000 children who need surgery for congenital heart diseases every year.
"We are handling about 1,200 paediatric cases a year, 75 per cent of which are carried out at IJN," said Liow.
"(We're not moving fast) enough, because it's a full house at IJN. Some of the children cannot wait long because they are urgent cases. So, there is pressure on us to perform surgery quickly."
Among the measures being taken by the ministry to ease the backlog is to offer Hospital Serdang's unused facilities to the private sector.
So far, only IJN has taken up the offer.
"IJN does not have enough OTs. It has a long waiting list for surgeries. It is negotiating with Hospital Serdang for use of its cardiac care facilities."
Another measure is to send these children to India, where costs are a fraction of what they are here.
Liow said the Narayana Hospital, for instance, was only charging RM10,000 for the surgery, compared with the RM17,000 charged by IJN.
Additional costs for airfare, visas, accommodation and other logistical matters for the child and an accompanying parent would only come to RM4,900, bringing the total to RM14,900 a case.
The government has allocated RM2 million for this programme. The hospital was chosen because of its quality care and the close working relationship it has with the ministry.
As for the shortage of specialists, Liow said the ministry's long-term plan was to increase the number of cardiothoracic surgeons and paediatric cardiac surgeons by training more specialists here.
He said he hoped other private hospitals would emulate the Penang Adventist Hospital, which had offered to perform 50 paediatric cardiac surgeries free to reduce the waiting period.