A great grandfather writes to medical students

Island

It is 2.30 AM, and I just got up from my sleep after watching the Cricket match till 10.00 PM and decided to write this to the children of state medical faculties who are keeping out of their University lectures and clinical for almost a year. I know that all of you are not rich, but from middle class or poor families.

Your parents during the 13 years of schooling provided you with food, clothing and shelter and education, holding your hand and walking to school, at first the nursery and then primary up to the grade 9, and later allowed you to go alone to your tuition classes, for which they paid their hard earned money. Almost all of you attend tuition classes.

After completing the most competitive examination in your life you were selected to study Medicine, and your parents, brothers and sisters were very happy. Finally, your close attachment to your parents and family eased. You became independent. You started your studies consciously.

Then a group of people who were interested only in themselves and their greed for money commenced poisoning your minds, making false allegations against SAITM.

I started the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine in 2009 at the request of the then Minister of Higher Education Professor Vishwa Warnapala, who lamented that, of 250,000 who sat the GCE advance level examination 100,000 qualified to enter the state universities but only 18,000 are admitted due to lack of physical facilities.

Of the students who are left out, the majority either gave up their studies or entered other professions and courses outside the university system and foreign universities.

He then invited those who had money to invest in higher education. I met Vishwa and agreed to invest my money amounting to Rs. 1,600 million, which I got from the funds from the sale of my shares in Asha Central Hospital in Horton Place, Colombo 07 to Mr. Ashok Pathirage of Asiri Hospital.

Next, I informed the University Grants Commission, the Chairman of which was Professor Gamini Samaranayake, who replied to my application saying the University Act did not allow for private higher education.

Since I never take ‘no’ for an answer, I applied to the Board of Investment in Sri Lanka (BOI), the Chairman of which was the leading entrepreneur in the country Mr. Dhammika Perera. He readily granted approval and we signed an agreement in which I asked for Health Science, IT Management, etc.

What is Health science? Please refer the Wikipedia on the internet. You will find medicine, dentistry, nursing, allied health sciences and a long list of subjects.

The primary cause of the tension in the country is that the Chairman of the five member committee to look into the complaints of the government medical association, Dr. Ranvindra Ruberu, the then Secretary to the Ministry of Health, alleged that I had not applied for medicine but only for health sciences, which, as I mentioned earlier includes Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing and a host of other subjects.

The medical faculty of the South Eastern University is a faculty of Health Science, but grants the MBBS.

Imperial College, London, which had Technology, grants the MBBS degree, which is highly valued as the fourth placed medical college in the world. Please refer to the Wikipedia for all the universities that grant the MBBS degree, but have faculties of Health Science. You children have been exploited by interested parties like the GMOA and the agents sending students abroad, who stand to lose if SAITM is successful and other medical colleges come to Sri Lanka.

I requested the SLMC to monitor SAITM from 2009 but the replies from 2009 up to very recent times were that the minimum prescribed standards have been gazetted but not passed by Parliament, and when passed the SLMC would come to monitor.

The minimum prescribed standards were not even passed by Parliament when the SLMC sent the review team to my University under the Universities Act, at my request.

Ten members headed by Prof. Rizvi Sheriff were appointed to review SAITM by the SLMC. Nine members, including the Chairman came on 13th, 14th and 15th of July 2015 went through the entire SAITM Campus. They met the academic, administrative, and minor staff, and the students, and handed over the report that the graduates of SAITM be given provisional registration subject to certain conditions, which could only be met if the SAITM students were allowed the use of state hospitals. By a court case, SAITM students have been given the use of the Psychiatry and Forensic Medicine facilities at Avissawella Hospital and Community Medicine in Kaduwela MOH Areas.

My past

I entered the University of Ceylon (the only university in the country) in 1953 with 26 other students from Ananda College, Colombo. I passed out with a Second Class MBBS in 1958, did my internship in my home town Panadura, and commenced a family practice in 1959 immediately after my internship.

Being the youngest of the family doctors at that time, I used to answer almost all the night calls as the seniors did not go out in the night. I recall an occasion when as early at 2 or 3 am, I was rudely woken up by the banging on the doors and shouting, calling me to come soon, to see a patient who was bleeding after delivery. I promptly got up changed my night clothes, took the emergency bag and visited the patient.

It was a poor village called Thotawatta or Ambalandoowa. The mother was lying on a mat, bleeding, while several women were seated around her. After washing my hands and putting on the gloves I asked for a torch. They brought a bottle lamp. After about half an hour the stitching was over and bleeding stopped. As I got up to return home, a poor relative told me they had no money to pay me. I said it was all right and went back.

I always remember with gratitude what the greatest Surgeon of all time, Dr. P. R. Anthonis, who operated till he was 92 years, told me “Neville, Do not go after money, you will get money when you need it”.

In 1972 the Prime Minister Dudley Senanayake, one of the kindest and best leaders that Sri Lanka had, appointed me as the electoral organizer for Panadura, which the UNP had not won for 25 years and the sitting member was the Minister of Transport Leslie Goonewardena, a leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja party. The election was held in 1977 and I was able to turn the Red electorate Green. Because all my patients voted for me and gave me 28,000 votes as opposed to Leslie’s 18,000.

So Dr. Anthonis’s prediction was correct. At that election, I spent only Rs .25,000 which was the cost of diesel for my jeep.

The period 1972 – 1975 was the happiest years of my political life when every weekend I used to go from village to village organizing party branches. After walking we had lunch, generally bread, as rice was allowed only on two days of the week by the government. We enjoyed lunch sitting under coconut palms. The village branch supplied all the food generously prepared at the home of the Branch Secretary or the President.

The next time I got money which I needed most was in 2012 when I decided to construct my own hospital for the clinical training of SAITM students, who were not allowed to go to the Homagama Hospital for their clinical by the GMOA, who threatened an all Island strike if they were allowed in to the Homagama.

Since I had not made any financial provisions for a hospital, I attempted to raise funds from my regular bank, which took a long time to process the loan application.

In desperation, I went to the Bank of Ceylon and met the Chairman Dr. Gamini Wickramasinghe, who was introduced to me by Prof. Waidyasekera, the owner of IIT, which has produced thousands of IT Graduates, and the then Deputy General Manager Mr. D. M. Gunasekera, now General Manager.

On the Chairman’s table was a heap of leaflets requesting the Bank not to give loans to SAITM. Dr. Wickramasinghe asked me for the succession plan and when I showed it would be my granddaughter Himali Jayatilake, a first class graduate in Finance and Management, a passed finalist of the CIMA, he was satisfied and said the hospital was a national need and that he would fund the hospital.

Ultimately the total cost of Rs. 2,500 million was granted by the bank.

In a short time the hospital became popular and the numbers were increasing, when Carlo Fonseka made a statement that Rev. Sobitha Thero had died because of the treatment given at NFTH. I have filed a defamation case against him. I will not say more about this.

However, the hospital admissions dropped drastically. Since the hospital was built for clinical training of SAITM students and not to make money, I decided to hand it over to the state. Since then the numbers have increased. The Medical and Surgical wards are full and now the students say that they are overworked!

Know these facts

The reason for writing all this is to show the children who are keeping away from lectures and clinicals for nearly an year to go back to their universities, study hard and sit for the examinations on time; become consultants and perform their duties conscientiously without fleecing poor patients, unlike those cat’s paw agents who are scared that their business of sending students abroad and making millions will be affected if more non state Medical Colleges come to Sri Lanka after SAITM is successful.

Do you know that these agents make between Rs. 500,000 –R. 1 million per student they send abroad, and also get a cut from the foreign universities?

Do you know that the cost of organizing the SAITM Virodhi walk from Kandy to Colombo cost millions of rupees?

Three wheelers, mini trucks and bands have to be paid for.

Why do they spend all this money? To keep you out of universities and close doors to SAITM so that agents can send students abroad and earn millions.

The cost to the country is Rs. 132 billion a year. More non state medical colleges will save this money for the country, which will then be used to increase state facilities.

Therefore, as a great-grandfather of 86 , having two beautiful great grandsons, I kindly request you to go back to your studies, become consultants, and make the country great.

The time now is 5.00 AM and time to catch up a few minutes of sleep.

DR. NEVILLE FERNANDO

Founder Chairman

South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine

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