A shortage of medical personnel, especially doctors, has led to staff being overworked at some hospitals and is a problem for the Public Health Ministry, a top health official said on Tuesday.
Dr Opas Karnkawinpong, the ministry's permanent secretary, was responding to a news report that many new doctors were resigning shortly after entering government service because they were unable to withstand the heavy workload.
The report cited, as an example, actress Noppasorn "Puimek" Veerayuthawilai, who graduated from the faculty of medicine at Rangsit University.
She said in an interview that after six years of hard study she thought she would fulfil her dream of being a doctor. But after a short time in the job she resigned from the government health service.
Puimek said the system forced her to accept a heavy workload. It was too heavy, and she could not stay on. So she had resigned.
Dr Opas said it was true the health ministry suffered from a shortage of doctors and wanted to recruit more. However, the number it could recruit was decided by the Civil Service Commission and the government.
Dr Opas said people had a high need for public health services, particularly during and after the Covid-19 pandemic, but the ministry had only limited personnel.
He thanked the government for having approved 45,000 new positions for medical personnel to cope with the coronavirus outbreak. But more were still needed, he said.
Apart from the personnel shortage, there was a problem with the allocation of funds for the National Health Security Office, which had to provide universal healthcare coverage. More money was needed to cope with the growing number of people seeking its services.
All this was outside the ministry's control, he said.
Dr Opas said the ministry had tried to make the best use of its limited resources and he thanked all medical personnel who had made sacrifices to best serve their patients.
Asked whether there could be a "brain drain" problem, Dr Opas said steps were being taken to prevent this. Knowing that the average income of medical personnel was below that offered by the private sector, the ministry had increased the overtime rate, built housing for staff and provided them with better welfare benefits.
Many government doctors had been promoted to C-9 level and nurses to C-8 and C-9 levels, he said.
The problem of overwork was the most difficult to solve, mainly due to the shortage of personnel. A bigger budget allocation and higher staff ceiling would help solve the problem.
Dr Opas said he had instructed all departments to make sure their personnel were provided with sufficient welfare and not given too heavy a workload.
Regional hospitals in cities had a bigger problem with overwork than smaller hospitals in districts.
On the issue of "brain drain", Dr Opas said about 2,000 doctors were recruited into the government health service each year, and about 10% later resigned to pursue further studies. Most doctors who entered the public health system remained in the service, he said.