BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Some healthcare workers failed to follow COVID-19 safety protocols when handling tests samples leaving them exposed to potential risk, His Majesty Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah revealed on Thursday.

During an unscheduled visit to the Ministry of Health (MoH), the monarch said Brunei’s handling of COVID-19 has been a success thanks to “solid cooperation from all parties”, however incidents of personnel failing to comply with health protocols reflects weaknesses in the ministry’s management.

In his titah, the sultan singled out a health centre for not following proper procedures to clean equipment used to collect and store coronavirus swab samples, such as vials and refrigerators.

“The centre was given instructions that all apparatus for keeping swabs be cleaned by duty cleaners. But according to the SOP, cleaning should only be carried out by nurses and not cleaners who haven’t been trained to do such things.”

He added that COVID test samples were also transported in the same vehicles as blood and urine samples, while standard operating procedures dictate that they should be kept separate.

His Majesty listens to MoH staff give a briefing on collection of DNA samples at the Dept of Scientific Services. Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty also asked why had there been a delay in disbursing the special allowance for COVID-19 frontliners that was announced last April.

He said a number of frontline healthcare workers have yet to receive the monthly allowance of $400.

“There is also confusion on the disbursement of allowances. Some nurses and ambulance drivers complained that they were supposed to receive five payments but only collected the allowance three times.”

MoH urged to fix shortage of healthcare workers

Addressing issues on healthcare delivery, the sultan said the shortage of doctors has led to long waiting times at the Accident and Emergency Department.

“Is the administration aware of this situation? If actions have been taken, why is it still happening?”

“What is the meaning of ‘Accident and Emergency Department’? It is not a place for long waits, but a place to get immediate treatment.”

He also touched on the shortage of ambulance drivers, which has forced some paramedics to drive ambulances themselves even though they have not been given specialised training.

The monarch added that there has been a trend of many government nurses moving to private hospitals, and that MoH should study the reasons why.

He said the ministry must also look into its outdated remuneration scheme which has resulted in many healthcare workers being underpaid.

The monarch cited examples of degree holders being paid on the same salary scale as holders of Higher National Diplomas.

“It is believed that this is because the Allied Health Professional Service Scheme has not been renewed,” he said.

His Majesty made an impromptu visit to the Ministry of Health on Mar 4, 2021. Photo: Infofoto

His Majesty said medicine shortages at district hospitals has also forced residents to get their prescriptions from RIPAS hospital in the capital.

“Does this not cause much difficulty to patients, especially senior citizens?,” the sultan said.

“It is noted that MoH is striving to provide the right health services to citizens, but there are still visible flaws that should not be happening such as the long wait times for patients to see doctors.”