A B Sosa, Air Vice Marshal (Retired) (Island)
The Government Medical Officers Association [GMOA] is on a collision course with the democratically elected President and Parliament for the reason that those young persons who have completed their course of studies at the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine [SAITM] will be a threat to the health of our less affluent citizens who seek treatment for their illnesses at Government hospitals.The premise of their objection is that these academically qualified students lack adequate clinical and diagnostic ability as they are not exposed to a wide range of illnesses that are being treated at fairly large Government hospitals. When this objection was raised, the Government, in order to bridge this lacuna, took immediate steps to attach these students to two large hospitals for a specific time and also qualify at an exam conducted by the relevant authorities prior to registration as is done for foreign qualified medical graduates.
It is strange that the members of the GMOA turn a “blind eye” to the travails and hassles that poor people face in having at times to share a bed with two other patients – three to a bed. They do not seem to have any compunction or apprehension that there is a grave risk of “cross infections” which may necessitate these unfortunate patients to return to the same hospital for a completely different ailment. The Out Patients Departments [OPD] in most of these hospitals are pathetic. Patients queue up before the crack of dawn seeking treatment for their illnesses. On being examined by a medical officer they in most instances are prescribed some medicines adequate for only two days and requested to return on the third day if not cured. Like the mirthful local proverb that the “the man who fell off a tree was gored by a bull” matters are made worse by the common fact that some medicines prescribed are not available in the hospital pharmacy. Hence there is no option other than to purchase it from a private pharmacy in the area. It is not surprising that private pharmacies in their numbers thrive in the vicinity of almost all Government hospitals. I hesitate to arrive at a conclusion that these pharmacies operate in connivance with the relevant GMOA officers manning the OPDs and even some wards.
It is hilarious that the GMOA whilst almost totally ignoring the sad plight of the patients in their care has embarked on Trade Union action seeking solutions to subjects which are not within their purview. To make matters worse, there is a very clear Judicial verdict pertaining to the SAITM. It is disturbing that academically qualified but not necessarily intelligent members of the GMOA have chosen to ignore this verdict possibly due to inflated egos. They very confidently announced that they will be supported by some other trade unions that do not have any connection with the GMOA. Fortunately, as far as the public were concerned it was a damp squib. Road transport was unaffected and the railway too functioned. A canard was spread that the distribution of petrol and diesel will be stopped. This of course was wishful thinking.
My understanding of trade unionism is that it was evolved to protect the rights and privileges of its particular members. It is tragic that the GMOA has taken on a responsibility in a most irresponsible manner to dictate policy to the legitimately elected Government. They must confine themselves to the objective relevant to their trade. In the context of Greed surpassing Needs they could even make ridiculous demands for “duty free” vehicles for their wives, luxury apartments in the city to enable their children to attend prestigious non-fee levying schools and owing to the escalating cost of living impeding a luxurious life style indulge in private practice during their official duty hours!
I am also very intrigued by the fact that unlike in their strike of a few weeks ago, the GMOA had not appealed to the JVP to support their cause. In this context, it is logical to assume some of their membership would have in the period 1987 to 1990 been “card carrying members” whilst being medical students in our universities! The current JVP hierarchy seems to have metamorphosed from their destructive origins to a more civilized political entity.
If the GMOA continues to obstinately hold “the sword of Damocles” over the duly elected Government of Sri Lanka and like the Bard’s Shylock demand their “pound of flesh” there will be no option other than to take decisive action. The registration of all office bearers should be cancelled. They will no longer be able to call themselves “doctors”. In such a situation, the GMOA as a trade union will cease to exist. Some of the rank and file may align themselves with their discredited colleagues. In the event of there being a fairly substantial shortfall the Government could appeal to its SAARC neighbors to send some of their medical officers to at least partially fill the void. The suffering poor public will applaud this move.