By Somapala Gunadheera –
The SAITM imbroglio appears to be dragging on without end. It is high time that the Government in power intervened resolutely as of late, to establish the credibility of Yahapalanaya and put an end to this colossal waste of the country’s assets, both material and intellectual, without habitually waiting Micawber-like, for something to turn up some day.
I think sticking to the following formula should see an end to this fiasco.
1. The Medical Council plays a major role in the dispute. It is unfortunate that it happened to be dysfunctional at the spur of the moment due to the retirement of its Chairman. The first problem is to appoint a new Chairman. That is the privilege of the Minster of Health. However the GMOA does not appear to have faith in the person likely to be appointed. The GMOA does not have a decision-making role here. But as a prominent functionary in the medical field, it has a moral right to be concerned with the suitability of the Chairman of the MC. Obviously a person who has had dealings with the SAITM and benefitted from it in the past would not fit that role in the interests of natural justice. The Minister should play a conciliatory role here if he has the interests of the service in mind. That role is best discharged by acting on a recommendation of the MC on the choice of a Chairman for it.
2. Half the problem will be over with the appointment of a universally acceptable Chairman to the Medical Council. It will then proceed without any loss of time to enact regulations to provide for the following situations.
a) Minimum qualifications required to enter a medical faculty, public or private.
b) Conditions under which a first medical degree could be acquired in any sector.
c) Levelling disparities that may exist in the medical profession before, during and after the assumption of studies between participants from the two sectors
3. The third question that may crop up is the question whether there is a place for free medical education in this country. Much may be said on both sides on this question but it is a policy question to be decided by the Legislature of the country that initiated the free education process. It is the Parliament that has the constitutional right to rule on the matter. It is a pity that that institution has not interfered so far to settle the argument that has been hanging fire, causing endless inconvenience to road users and allowing valuable national assets to go down the drain. May the Government take steps at least at this late stage to settle this policy matter? Until that is done sooner than later, it would be prudent to suspend recruitments to private medical facilities. Both sides may canvass their point peacefully with the Legislature. A final decision will be taken with a referendum, if necessary.
4. Students who have already entered private medical facilities present another problem. They have spent much time, funds and energy on this score and have to be looked after by the State. They cannot suffer or be faulted for the past commissions or omissions of Government and its seeming lack of vigilance. It is the State’s duty to provide for private medical students who satisfy the entrance requirements laid down by the MC to enter the profession.
If this formula is acceptable to the Government the President must make a public announcement of the fact and fix a quick time tine to achieve the agreed objectives. He must simultaneously call upon the medical students on strike to resume their studies. They have already spent much time and energy in the pursuit of their studies. The ordinary tax-payer is spending much more through their nose to provide for them by way accommodation, tuition and training. That public investment has been summarily wasted for nearly a year due to the student strike which has already caused a hiatus of nearly one year in the process of production of doctors. There are thousands of less fortunate students down the line who would be only too glad to take the strikers’ place, thus bettering their prospects and stopping the ongoing colossal waste of public funds. If the current students insist on continuing their boycott despite the acceptance of the above settlement, the Government would have no alternative but to terminate their studentships and fill them with suitable substitutes who would be glad to fill the places of the recalcitrant.
It is the failure of Yahapalanaya to put an early and effective end to the SAITM fiasco that has caused a massive loss to medical studies in the public sector. It is hoped that the prompt application of the above formula would restore medical education in this country to its traditional prestigious level.