Dr. A Padeniya,
Government Medical Officers’ Association,
Dear Dr. Padeniya,
Having observed the various developments in the health sector and in medical education in the past few years, I thought of writing to you on my appraisal of the current situation. I hope it is not too late in the day to write to you.
I write as a senior physician, a medical teacher, a past member of the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) for ten years, and a former vice president and a long serving committee member of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA). I have been in the fore front of many GMOA trade union activities, occasional strikes, and was a part of the public face of the GMOA in TV discussions, press conferences etc. I argued then that a union having to resort to strikes to win its demands was actually a sign of its weakness rather than its strength, as it is an admission that the union has failed in its negotiations.
You were considered a great asset by all in the GMOA as a man who studied the issues in depth and knew his facts before coming for any discussions. I still remember how in our negotiations over salary issues, you had at your finger tips all details of the comparative salary scales of all categories in the health sector. I remember congratulating you when you were elected the president on the first two occasions, but did not approve when you continued to hold office later.
Let me clarify my position regarding SAITM at the very outset. I do so as a member of the SLMC who took part in the initial discussions with Dr. Neville Fernando on the establishment of SAITM, took part in many relevant discussions in the SLMC until 2012 and also was also part of the UGC team inspecting the medical school.
I have no doubt that the SAITM authorities ignored all advice and guidance given by the SLMC on numerous occasions. Instead they have relied on political patronage to get the approval in a surreptitious way. How three cabinet ministers keep agitating for the sake of this private enterprise raises many questions as to what their obligations are.
I have little sympathy for the students and their parents as they have been adequately warned regularly by the SLMC over the years on the fact that this institution was not recognized by the medical council. I fail to understand why even some senior members of the medical profession took the risk of admitting their children to a medical school lacking SLMC approval.
That being said, I accept that any solution to the current crisis should recognize the necessity of allowing those students to continue their medical studies. Once that is done, this fraudulent medical school should be closed down. It is not practical for the state to take over every private medical school getting into difficulties. With plans in the pipeline for establishing state medical schools elsewhere in the country, there is no necessity for one in Malabe at state expense. I accept that there is room for a properly constituted private medical school in Sri Lanka, guided and recognized by the SLMC.
Let me now examine the role of the GMOA in the SAITM affair. It has expressed its opposition to the existence of SAITM in no uncertain terms. However I feel there is no justification for repeated strike action to achieve its aims. The hardship caused to the public is really saddening. I would not hesitate to label these strikes as a crime against society.
Perhaps you may remember that we had definite guidelines in undertaking harsh trade union action in the past. It was generally accepted that strike action should not be used for salary issues and others of a more personal nature. Any suggestion for going on strike demanding good schools for our own children would have been unthinkable then.
We considered strike action as a last resort to protest against irregular transfers and appointments to keep the health service out of political interference. We succeeded in achieving the latter aim to a great extent. We had regional strikes if a member of ours was obstructed by any one during work and police did not apprehend the offenders. I feel all those short lasting actions were justified as they were inevitable.
We also had a general understanding that we should not seek the support of trade unions in other fields for any reason. That would have made us under obligation to join them in their struggles. This was considered unacceptable as our service of caring for the sick cannot be mixed up with or compromised by any of their fields of activity.
What happens now is totally unacceptable. GMOA officials publicly calling general strikes is a bad trend. Doctors going on strike for general political issues like the ICTA are also unwarranted. For the first time in the history, you have allowed a political party leader to address the GMOA membership. As I already indicated to you personally, this should never have happened.
The net result of all this is that in the public eye, the GMOA has become equivalent to any other trouble making union in the public sector. The public has lost all respect for the GMOA and the medical profession in general. It is inevitable that many suspect that your actions are a part of a larger campaign to create political instability.
I know you are a very caring paediatric neurologist and a medical teacher doing your duty properly in the health service. You are respected by the GMOA members for the service rendered in getting their emoluments and other benefits on par with other comparable services.
The fact that, as president of the GMOA, you have done much work including publishing booklets and conducting workshops guiding doctors to better professional standards, is little known to many in the society.
Yet I believe that you have been the president of the GMOA for too long. You now lack new thinking and when in “power” you tend to ignore the general feelings of the membership. This is why even in the field of politics, I believe no one, however good he may appear, should be allowed to remain in power for more than two terms.
You should plan to step down when your current term expires. You can render a much greater service to society if you now devote full time for your clinical work. After all, paediatric neurology is a relatively new field that needs people like you with energy, imagination and leadership qualities for further development.
I sincerely hope that you will take my advice in the same spirit that I give them.
Dr. Sarath Gamini De Silva