THE roles of medical social work officers should never be overlooked when it comes to taking care of the mental and social welfare of the patients throughout treatment and recovery.
They may not be as popular as medical specialists, doctors, nurses or medical officer assistants, but their duties and functions cannot be regarded lightly in view of the positive impact on the patients, says Ministry of Health (MoH)’s Medical Social Work Officers Profession chief Abdul Halim Jamil.
According to him, recent social development has shown a high demand for the services of medical social work and stakeholders have stressed on the importance of the support provided by them.
“The competencies of medical social work officers are much needed to meet the psycho-social needs of the patients, their families and also the community towards achieving a more optimal health quality that is in line with the mission and vision of the ministry,” said Abdul Halim in his welcoming remarks for the ‘25th Malaysia Medical Social Work Officers Conference’ held at a local hotel in Kuching recently.
With the theme ‘Social Work: Together Towards Excellence’, the programme was aimed at further enhancing the skills, knowledge and capabilities of the participating medical social work officers in facing the challenges and also the changes in the world, particularly in the medical treatment landscape.
In his presentation, Abdul Halim highlighted that the country was currently facing a shortage of medical social work officers, pointing out that additional 325 officers would be needed to accommodate all the patients seeking treatments and solutions for their psycho-social issues.
It is reported that at present, there are 280 officers at national level, and 33 at Sarawak level.
“Sarawak alone needs another 30 officers to meet the local demands,” he stressed.
The issue on the shortage of medical social work officers had been pointed out during the recent Health Policy Summit at Kuala Lumpur World Trade Centre recently, he added.
“With a small number of our officers providing services nationwide, it is difficult for our profession to be recognised, and also to assure various parties of the roles that we can effectively play.
“The shortage could also result in our intervention measures to be of lower quality and less holistic for the patients,” remarked Abdul Halim.
In his speech to officiate at the opening of the 25th Malaysia Medical Social Work Officers Conference, Deputy Health Minister II Datuk Aaron Ago Dagang hailed these officers as having provided exemplary services to the patients, particularly during this Covid-19 endemic.
“The services of medical social work officers provided at health facilities such as hospitals, health institutions and clinics, adopt a multi-disciplinary approach towards achieving the objective of total patient care,” said Ago.
Additionally, the deputy health minister also said the ministry had recently embarked on a transformation of the country’s health system, through a ‘Health White Paper’, attempting to shift from ‘sick care’ to ‘health care’.
“In a multi-disciplinary approach, the process of treatment, recovery and prevention for patients is conducted together with other professions, but all these would not be complete without the involvement of medical social work officers.”
Ago then called upon all parties, including the medical social work officers, to work together towards supporting the recovery of patients from the long-term effects of Covid-19, with many still facing economic difficulties.
“Thus, the services provided under medical social work are very much significant in fulfilling the needs of the patients or clients, which are increasingly getting more complex and dynamic.”
The deputy minister added that MoH had realised how important the roles played by medical social work officers in networking with other government agencies in terms of providing assistance, from all aspects, to the patients, especially those from poorer background.
Among the initiatives was to set up a ‘Stroke Fund’ as part of a collaboration between government agencies, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and the private sector to assist stroke patients in their journey towards recovery.
Touching on the difficulties experienced by the patients from the rural areas in seeking treatments in hospitals located in the urban areas, Ago said the setting-up of a virtual consultation programme via the usage of modern technologies was already in the planning.
“The ministry will support the medical social workers community to continue improving their work processes through the setting-up of a complete patients’ information system that can produce fast and accurate reports on the patients’ situations.”
In this regard, Ago expressed hope that all medical social work officers would continue their good work and professionalism in providing their best service to the patients and achieve the ‘Shared Prosperity Vision 2030’.
Focusing more on social aspects
When met by thesundaypost, Abdul Halim explained the vast differences in the roles between a medical social work officer and a medical officer assistant.
“A medical social work officer focuses on the social aspect of the patients. For example, we help patients who cannot afford the treatments, whether it is to buy medicines or medical equipment.
“The medical officer assistants are to assist the doctors in providing the treatments while we, the medical social work officers, support the patients from the social aspects like financial assistance,” he clarified.
The three-day conference in Kuching entailed a series of activities that included a talk on the setting up of a ‘Stroke Fund’, a speech from a Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) representative about carrying out social work during the Covid-19 endemic, a talk presented by a specialist from Sarawak General Hospital’s Mental Health and Psychiatric Department, as well as a session on discussing scientific papers.