By Ranga Kalansooriya –
No treatment will be the New Year greetings of medical doctors to their poor patients, as per the announcement by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) last week. They will take stern trade union action if the government continues its silence over the demands of the medical practitioners, as per the GMOA claim.
What are these demands? Better medical standards for their patients? Provide sufficient medicine to the dying patients at Maharagama and Karapitiya Cancer hospitals? Provide better medicine for the critical patients by removing sub-standard medicine from the stores? Take strict action against the private hospital mafia? Introduce better standards to the mushrooming private hospitals? Investigate the alleged illicit human organ trading rackets that some private hospitals are engaged in? Divulge and take tough action by the Bribery Commission against the corrupt practices of the doctors in order to safe guard the good name of the profession?
Sorry – nothing of that sort. Pension issues, withdrawal of the vehicle permit, SAITM Private Medical College and CEPA agreement between Sri Lanka and India.
On the outset, there exist a major political rift between GMOA and the government over the conduct of the former during the January 8 Presidential Election. Many are of the view that the GMOA became a political tool of the Rajapaksa regime due to the conduct of some of its key leaders. If this is the case, GMOA should clear its name and fame before getting on to the streets for struggles, otherwise it cannot avoid the political branding that the professional entity would receive from different quarters of society. In fact some medical officers feel that the association is divided based on individuals who became political activists rather professionals. Professional bodies should not get politically tarnished at whatever cost, and should get stringent measures to get rid of such politically aligned characters. Otherwise the struggles will continue and the poor patients will suffer.
Withdrawal of an existing privilege would certainly create problems. I fully, thus, understand the lamenting of the doctors. Vehicle permits issue not only confines to the medical doctors, but it affects all state sector executives as well. But my argument is that it should not be limited to the state sector executives – what about the tax paying corporate sector that virtually runs the economy of the country? They too deserve similar privileges. In that case what about the teachers? Both general medical practitioners and professions like teachers would go through more or less a similar academic process –basic degree and a process of professional training. Special professions like medicine are predominantly based on the personal choice made at the entry level of Advance Level.
No argument, professions like medicine become more sacred due to its compassion towards humanity – specifically on saving lives. So does occupations like teaching which is more onto building lives. It is difficult to judge as to how one could over run the other. Former Indian President Abdul Kalam categorized primary teacher as the most important profession as it involves in shaping and building the future of the kid. If that is the case professional bodies like GMOA should fight for social justice – for the betterment of such persons.
However, the government too made a mess out of the issue by re-granting the facility for Parliamentarians which should not have been done.
The Medical Faculty of the South Asian Institute for Technology and Medicine (SAITM) – or the Private Medical College (PMC) in Malabe is another mess. It seems the GMOA is not opposing the concept of PMCs but the poor standards of the SAITM Medical Faculty. The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) at several occasions has raised its concern over several issues at Malabe PMC, predominantly on its clinical practices. Community medicine and forensic medicine have also been issues. Granting clinical practices at state hospitals (at Avissawella and Kaduwela hospitals as informed to the courts) is also morally wrong when there are ample private hospitals in the country. Some alleged that even the in-take of students is not up to that standards. “It seems there students who have not qualified in bio science at their Advanced Levels but home science,” a GMOA member told this writer. If these allegations are true, the institution requires a thorough scrutiny to rectify the situation. The government should be serious about getting the situation corrected.
The attitude towards the Kotalawala Defence University (KDU) that also runs as a semi government institution is entirely different. “Our standards are not the best, but comparatively OK. There are issues as well, but strange enough GMOA is silent about it,” said a senior lecturer of medical faculty of KDU.
But the ‘disaster’ situation is not at PMC or KDU, but at Rajarata and Eastern University Medical Faculties. “They do not even have proper dedicated teaching staff, either the lecturers are tool old retired professors from Colombo or elsewhere on part time basis or those who are on sabbatical leave from other universities. So the output is hopeless, and I cannot claim that they are professional doctors,” according to a senior Professor of the Colombo Medical Faculty. Another Professor said that the Rajarata and Eastern Medical Faculties consist of ‘just passed out MBBS students from Colombo or Jayawardenepura who has no teaching or clinical experience.’ Strangely the SLMC provides the excellence recognition to these graduates and GMOA turn a blind eye on these state institutions. “In fact all the state run seven medical faculties have major issues. Colombo has more than 30 crucial vacancies. Nobody talks about it, but a big issue is on PMC,” he said.
If this is the situation of the state medical faculties, the demand of the GMOA to make PMC the eighth medical faculty of the state does not make sense. I think the GMOA should revisit its demand list and get its acts together, get the house in order before making a mess out of the situation.
I have no idea as to why GMOA is making a demand on the controversial CEPA agreement. Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe made a clear statement in Parliament vehemently rejecting any move by the government to bring CEPA into force. But the doctors who state that the agreement will continue, feel threatened that their ‘private practice’ will be affected by visiting Indian doctors under the agreement. Nonetheless, there are dozens of Indian doctors practicing in private hospitals in Sri Lanka for the past many years even without CEPA. Why is this sudden fear?
No profession has supremacy over the others. And no profession could claim that they are supreme output of free education. What is the objective of free education? To produce doctors, engineers and such professionals at the expense of poor tax payers of this country? Sorry, sadly mistaken. The expectation of free education is to produce learned citizenry and good human beings – and if one claims to have gained the highest benefits of free education, he or she should be mindful of humanity, fair play and compassion. It is not, at all, about gaining the highest marks at examinations by ‘parrot-like’ cramming.