The Ministry of Health has issued a warning to provincial bosses, telling them to guarantee that staff members are not drinking and gambling on the job because it can “affect” the provision of care and emergency services for patients.
In a letter dated October 22, Health Minister Mam Bunheng called on all city and province health department directors to deal with the “small number” of hospital staff who are consuming alcohol and playing cards during working and standby hours.
“The Ministry strictly prohibits these improper acts,” the letter says. “[Staff] should be using their free time to do research into the medical field on the internet, or use their time to enhance the quality of the health service.”
Ministry of Health officials Ly Sovann and Chhit Sophal could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Ratanakkiri Provincial Health Department director Oung Rattanak yesterday said he had received the letter and would share its recommendations with those directly responsible to him, but suggested his province did not have a problem with such behaviour.
“For my local institutions, none of the staff consume alcohol or play games during work time, but we will share this news in order to remind them to maintain their professionalism,” he said.
San Chey, coordinator of the Affiliated Network For Social Accountability in East Asia and the Pacific (ANSA-EAP), an NGO focused on government accountability, welcomed the letter.
According to Chey, it is long overdue, with persistent reports of such behaviour within the health service stretching back over many years.
“Medics forgetting their duties to play games and bet on [things like] boxing during work time while patients are arriving at their facility is a problem,” he said. “We have observed them paying more attention more to the money than to providing treatment and it has been an ongoing source of criticism [of the health-care sector],” he said.
Chey called for the Health Ministry to reinforce the process for members of the public to raise their concerns about such activity with a standardised complaints process, as well as saying health workers’ salaries should be raised to improve their performance.
Cambodia’s health-care system is notorious for falling far below international standards. In a ranking of global healthcare systems published in 2000 by the World Health Organization, Cambodia was listed number 174 among 190 nations.