By Fathol Zaman Bukhari
A peaceful demonstration by a boisterous placard-holding crowd numbering around 60 on the morning of Tuesday, March 20 drew the attention of passers-by and visitors to Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun, Ipoh. The reason for the impromptu gathering was the malfunctioning hospital lifts which left many visitors in a quandary over their perceived state of disrepair.
The eminence of the morning muster was assured with the presence of former State Legislative Assembly Speaker and Adun for Tronoh, V. Sivakumar. The Opposition politician alleged that four of the hospital’s six lifts were inoperable for the last three years causing considerable hardship to patients and visitors alike. Sivakumar chided the hospital management for being insensitive to the needs of the public.
The intensity of the demonstration fizzled out soon enough. No untoward incidents happened and the authorities heaved a huge sigh of relief. There was no need for the riot police or the Light Strike Force or the formidable water cannons, as normal protocol would have it. Policing was kept to the minimum with a handful of policemen stationed around the hospital perimeter more for safety reasons than anything else. Their presence that fateful day was a reminder to the public that the situation was well under control.
A response from the state government was expected but its swiftness was rather exceptional. At 3.00 p.m. on the same day, Dato’ Dr Mah Hang Soon, the Executive Councillor for Health, organised a media conference at the hospital premises. Mah refuted Sivakumar’s claims saying that they were frivolous and inaccurate. “Only one of the six lifts is inoperable, the others are fine. I don’t know how he arrived at that conclusion,” he retorted. “The details regarding repair works on the lifts are on the billboard outside the hospital.”
Hospital Raja Perempuan Bainun, formerly Ipoh General Hospital, has six lifts at its main annexure. Four of the lifts are for the public, one for the fire brigade and the remaining one for the hospital staff. Lifts 4, 5 and 6 are under repair. Repair works began in November 2011 and are expected to complete in October 2012. The estimated cost is RM1.3 million. The wall titles in Lift 1, 2 and 3 are presently being replaced but the lifts are serviceable and not otherwise. Works on Lifts 4, 5 and 6 are in two phases. Phase 1 is the replacement of Lifts 4 and 5 beginning on April 24. The two lifts will be commissioned on July 13. Phase 2 involves the replacement of Lift 6 on July 17. It will be opened to the public on October 5.
Mah took reporters on all the working lifts confirming his earlier claim that all five lifts were in working condition except one – Lift 5. As an added assurance, the service lift near the Pathology Department is being used to ferry food trolleys and linen thus freeing Lifts 1, 2 and 3 for the public’s use.
And having seen how the lifts function, the whole episode seems trivial by any standards. It is really much ado about nothing. How this minor infraction has been politicised is beyond me.
However, Mah’s suggestion that staff, visitors and patients use the stairways to get to their destinations seems a little jaded. “I prefer to use the stairs as it’s much healthier,” he remarked. I wonder whether his advice will go down well with the aged and the infirm. Mah at 47, and a cardiologist by profession, is in his prime. But can you say the same of the many who visit the hospital daily?