Colombo Telegraph

Stop Deadlock In Medical Education

By Somapala Gunadheera

Somapala Gunadheera

The SAITM crisis has brought normal medical education in this country to a standstill. Students studying medicine in the medical faculties have absented themselves from lectures from the beginning of this year, as a protest against the decision to award medical degrees to SAITM products that they claim to be unqualified to receive such awards. The hiatus created in their studies by this standoff is bound to create an unbridgeable gap in their carrier that would accrue to their disadvantage for life, even after the dispute is resolved. In the meantime, the medical students at the SATIM who have been challenged by the strikers continue their studies unabated, thus gaining an advantage that would place them ahead of their protesters, when the dispute is resolved at last. As a sequel to this confrontation, hapless patients in government hospitals are being held to ransom over this issue admittedly, in their own interest.

In their protest campaign, the students of the medical faculties appear to be cutting their nose to spite the face of their counterparts at the SAITM. They are on a campaign to convince the general public that medical education given by the SAITM is not in the best interests of the people. Their time and energy is fully concentrated on an island-wide effort but it is doubtful whether the net-gain from their campaign would be worth the sacrifice devoted to the effort. The issues involved are far removed from the life interests of the people at a time when they are struggling to make both ends meet amidst a cacophony of pious promises by their leaders. So much so that cynicism is fast becoming the order of the day. The man in the street does not appear to see anything tangible happening to cater to his immediate burning problems. For him SAITM is a far cry.

The GMOA is fighting a relentless battle to put an end to the medical education given by the SAITM. They appear to have sprung into action only after the Court of Appeal endorsed the plea of the SAITM graduates for registration with the Medical Council. Of course, the GMOA’s arguments against registration deserve serious consideration. The question however, is why they slept over these issues for years allowing hundreds of students to devote the prime of their lives on the impugned course of studies and their parents to spend their hard earned money on a venture whose collapse would frustrate their costly investments. Both the GMOA and the investors at the SAITM should realize that they have worked themselves into a corner by not raising effective objections and finalizing matters in due time. It is a reflection on the Government to have allowed this dispute to get out of hand, without taking necessary steps at the proper time to avoid the present deadlock. Even at this moment the rulers appear to take a grandstand view of the situation, doing little to resolve it, except by word of mouth and applying the remedy for all seasons, calling for reports.

What all stake holders must realize is that with the SAITM issue, we are up against a problem from which we cannot run away without substantial confusion in our society. The need of the hour is to take a pragmatic view of the situation and make a positive approach to solve it. There is much substance in the objections of the GMOA to recognizing the medical degrees awarded by the SAITM as outlined below:

  1. The SAITM private medical college has failed to comply with the standards stipulated by the SLMC and disregarded the SLMC public notices cum warnings.
  2. They do not possess BOI, UGC or any other legally sound approval.
  3. Medical council guidelines, such as a well-established hospital complex, fulfilling minimum standards, prior to recruitment of medical students have not been satisfied fully.

Strictly speaking, a medical degree cannot be awarded under these circumstances but if we keep arguing on these lines until the cows come home we will never be able to resolve this problem. It is too late in the day now to rectify the commissions and omissions of the past. An attempt to do so would ultimately result in putting hundreds of students who went through this course in good faith, in the lurch. The regulatory authorities who permitted this deviation without checking it under the powers available to them for whatever reason have to assume moral responsibility to resolve it with minimum damage to all interests involved. To my mind, the best way to do this is to get those passing out of SAITM to sit the final exam prescribed for government medical faculties. Students from SAITM who pass that exam will join the medical profession without discrimination. Those who fail of course will suffer the normal consequences of failure, similar to the insiders who fail their finals. This is normal procedure followed by foreign graduates who wish to enter the medical profession here. Of course SAITM is not a foreign University but the situation demands that we ignore niceties and cut corners to get over the mess we have created through negligence. The authorities should bear the responsibility for providing essential facilities missed by the students from the SAITM, if any.

It should be understood that this is a once and for all arrangement to accommodate those who are already caught up in the SAITM debacle, for no fault of their own. It involves a reliable test to ascertain suitability to join the medical profession, guaranteeing the safety of would-be patients. Besides it will not be the only instance where those who have passed their finals, sit a public exam to join a profession. Law students who pass out of law faculties of Universities have to pass the final examination of the Law College before they join the legal profession. However it is important to agree that this ad hoc arrangement would apply only to those who are already following a medical degree at the SAITM. No new recruitments should be made to that institution until it satisfies all the necessary conditions laid down by the applicable authorities.

I am not sure whether the authorities responsible for the current deadlock over the SAITM medical degree would get up from their slumber, at least at this late stage, to bring the matter to an amicable settlement, thus preventing a growing challenge to the development of medical education in this country. The more probable solution to the dispute is likely to stem from a positive settlement worked out by the Supreme Court when the Appeal Court judgement on the SAITM Case goes up there. I keep my fingers crossed for all the stakeholders to this dispute to come together at that stage and help resolve it by compromise, in the larger interests of the nation.

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