More than forty years ago, a group of prominent businessmen in the State of Penang conceived the idea of establishing the island’s first private hospital.
The businessmen – Tan Sri Dato’ Loh Boon Siew, Dato’ Tan Kim Yeow, Choong Eng Kim, Dato’ Yeap Hock Hoe, Tuan Hajee Mayen Abubacker and Dr R.N. Pannikar had at some time or other, been under the care of several senior consultants at the Penang General Hospital.
These consultants had built up many years of reputable service of the hospital, and were among the State’s most notable medical consultants. Thus, when it was learnt that these senior consultants were due for transfer out of Penang, the businessmen became concerned that the people of Penang would lose the services of these consultants.
The businessmen took it upon themselves to invite the four pioneer consultants – Dato’ Dr. A Tharmaratnam, Dato’ Dr. V Thuraisingham, Dato’ Dr. P C Vanniasingham and Dr. Goh Kay Wah – to start up a private medical centre.
The idea was challenging, but met with some hesitation from the four. Private medical centres, as we know them today, were non-existent then. Furthermore, the depressed economic climate at the time cast some doubts about the future of the proposed private hospital. The people of Penang, they felt, would not pay for private medicine.
The consultants were also concerned about “burning their bridges” if they left the Government service, especially after having served for 70 years collectively.
“It was with a certain amount of trepidation and reservation that we finally consented, after we had been guaranteed a minimum amount of remuneration to start with”, recalls Dato’ Dr. Tharmaratnam.
Shortly after, a private limited company was formed under the name of Cantonment Medical Specialist Centre Sdn Bhd and incorporated on February 12, 1971 (The company later changed its name to Pulau Pinang Clinic Sdn Bhd on June 7, 1971). Its medical centre was to have been housed in a rented bungalow, sited at the junction of Jalan Cantonment and Jalan Bell.
While plans were being made to renovate it, the building was razed by fire, resulting in the cancellation of its lease. In hindsight, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The company acquired a 2 1/2 acre piece of land at Jalan Pangkor to site its new medical centre.
Construction of the new medical centre commenced in May 1972, and was completed in March 1973. In the meantime, staff recruitment began. Matron Tan Swee Kee was hand-picked by the doctors, and started work on March 1, 1973 to organise the hospital and train its first batch of nursing aides.
Established Since 1973
The Penang Medical Centre officially opened for business on July 1, 1973. This was a three-storey building with 70 beds, providing medical services in general medicine, general surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, anaesthesia and radiology. Supporting facilities included a laboratory and two operating theatres.
“The prophets of doom were proved wrong from the first day that the PMC (Penang Medical Centre) opened for business. Many of the patients from the general hospital, and even staff, moved from GH to PMC,” says Dato’ Dr Thuraisingham.
“Within the first month, the doctors’ earnings had exceeded the guaranteed minimum amount of remuneration. Half of our profits went back to the hospital, towards purchasing new equipment and keeping bed costs down.”
With such encouraging response from the public, the Board Of Directors soon realised that it had been too conservative by building three floors for the PMC building, although the original piling work allowed for six floors.
As a result, in 1975 it was decided that three floors be added to the building thus creating a total of 132 beds.
The expansion was subsequently completed in 1977 and the scope of specialist services provided by the hospital was also expanded to include radiology, paediatrics, ophthalmology, otorhinolaryngology (ENT), orthopaedics and neurosurgery.
In 1989, the majority control of the company was taken over by Gleneagles International (S) Pte Ltd – a wholly-owned subsidiary of Parkway Pantai Limited (formerly known as Parkway Holdings Limited), a public company listed on the Singapore Stock Exchange.