Et Tu Brute, GMOA
Posted on April 11th, 2017

Leo Fernando Pitipana Courtesy The Island

This is the sad and angry cry reverberating from the hapless poor patients who spent their meagre means to visit the hospitals on Friday the 7th April seeking treatment and solace, and being denied such by the doctors manning the government and some private hospitals who, they say, had their medical education financed from the taxes paid by these poor members of society.

Closing SAITM alleging substandard medical education in this only private medical school is not a valid reason to deny health care to the poor, and some desperately ill patients. Strikes by doctors become a human rights issue, nay a criminal offence. In the Sunday island paper Dr. AC Visvalingam, Chairman of CIMOGG, had very convincingly argued against the stance of the misguided members of the medical community.

It is clear that the reasons for the strike can be imputed to their greed for money by eliminating competition, and by forming an oligarchy so that they can ply their trade in both public and private hospitals. If I may recall the a bygone era when doctors were fighting for enhanced salaries and the right to do private practice (incidentally denied to all other professionals in the public sector) the salary scales of the new Senior Executive Service proposed by Dr. B. S. Wijeweera, UNDP Consultant, the following stages in their demands for higher salaries are given below.

Stage 1. When Mr. SWRD Bandaranaike was the Minister of Health, if I am not mistaken, medical Specialists were battling with the authorities for the right to admit private patients to government hospitals on chits.

Stage 2. With the grant of this right to qualified Specialists, acting Specialists not having the proper qualifications were doing private practice admitting private patients.

Stage 3. Specialists were entitled to a non pensionable allowance in lieu of private practice. Some, of course, did private practice while drawing the allowance. The late Gamini Fonseka’s film”Sarungale” depicted scenes of a surgeon being caught for doing private practice.

Stage 4. Government Specialists were entitled to do “channeled practice” in private hospitals but were paid by the government hospital authorities. Some Specialists did both “channeled practice”and also “tunnellëd practice”. The latter meant that they were receiving money from the private hospitals too.

Stage 5. All Specialists were entitled to convert the non-pensionable allowance to a pensionable allowance which later got unified with the salary.

Stage 6. Even non specialist doctors i.e. all doctors in the public service got the right to do private practice. They were also entitled to overtime payments, although they were exempted from signing an attendance register, a right they fought for what reason I fail to understand. All non staff grade public servants are required to sign an attendance register. Staff grade officers were not entitled to overtime payments then.

During the period of Stages 4 and 5 the salary scales of doctors were similar to those of District Land officers and Settlement Officers in the Administrative Service. There should not be any objections to the grant of high salaries to medical personnel considering the long hours of work and their qualifications and the high entry standard for admission to medical school. It has to be remembered that other scientists and engineers, with even a PhD, were not enjoying salary scales on par with those of Specialist Doctors.

But the public expects equally high socially responsible humanitarian standards from them. When they strike on matters unconnected to trade union rights there sets in a deficit in social responsibility that could cross the line towards criminality. The so called sub-standard medical education imparted in SAITM has little to do with trade union rights of doctors in the GMOA. If raising standards in SAITM is actuated by a desire to ensure that patients in state and private hospitals would get quality medical care, striking and depriving poor patients their right to medical care and treatment, is a case of holding patients to ransom as hostages in the pursuit of winning trade union rights by a coterie of educated, yet unsympathetic and anti social professionals enjoying the best possible pensionable salary scales and the right to do private practice at the same time; a privilege denied to all other professionals and sub-professional groups in the public service.

Leo Fernando

Pitipana

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