GMOA’s Achilles’ heel: Will people tolerate?

Tuesday, 9 May 2017 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DFT-17-5The protagonists who hold sway in the GMOA only appear to be interested in threatening the Government and creating discomfort in society



By Mahesh Senanayake 

“I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm,” is a line in the modern Hippocratic Oath written by Academic Dean of the School of Medicine at Tufts University Louis Lasagna in 1964. 

This version is accepted by many medical associations in the world and is no exception in Sri Lanka. Every member in the medical fraternity in our country takes the aforesaid oath and is supposed to abide by the norms of the hallowed profession. 

However, the present circumstances have prompted us to ascertain the credibility of some of the practitioners as credulous public who have never resorted to juxtapose the ludicrous behaviours of some of the so-called “saviours” and the real status quo. 

The standards of the profession have been affected due to unethical demands tainted with cheap politics by the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) is the perception of the general public, which will cause severe erosion of recognition and regard bestowed by the public on the doctors in the very near future. 

While it is well understood that not all members of the GMOA approve of the political stunts played by the officer bearers of the organisation, the civil society is well aware of the motives behind every action taken during the past two years.

The protagonists who hold sway in the GMOA have only appeared to be interested in threatening the Government and creating discomfort in society without an iota of regard for the disservice they obligate to their own fraternity by earning public wrath. Sooner rather than later, the public will raise their voice and object to the unethical demands of the GMOA and demand severe retaliation by way of calling for banning of private practice for the doctors who graduated from public universities. It will surely hold water due to the irrational approaches of the GMOA.

The doctors first showed the degree of concerns they have towards the status of the nation when they were highly-agitated by the State Budget proposal in 2015 not to grant the duty free vehicle permit for a year as a measure to resurrect the ailing economy. They were so impatient and demanded that they be allowed the privilege and said they would not have patience for a year. When the whole nation was aware of the debt burden, the doctors were not. Then the GMOA was concerned about some Budget proposals and bothered that the money they heaped through private practice would be made tax liable. 

The discourse with regard of the trade agreement to be entered between Sri Lanka and India (ETCA) is another occasion wherein the true face of the GMOA has surfaced. The GMOA is worried that Indian doctors would visit Sri Lanka and grab their portion of private practice. The public will surely stand by the local medical practitioners if the gates are open to Indian doctors to freely visit Sri Lanka and carry out private practice. What the GMOA has forgotten is that we Sri Lankans resort to seek assistance from the Indian doctors due to shortage of specialists local doctors and that many local doctors avail themselves of higher qualifications offered by Indian medical institutions in order to sharpen their expertise for career prospects. 

Politics behind the GMOA has been evident ever since the organisation began to intervene in the matter. While some of its concerns are valid, most of its sceptics are purely aimed at frightening the Government to placate the previous masters who amply appeased the obedient seniors of the GMOA with additional car permits, overseas trips, bank loans, undue favours to family members and opportunity for self-aggrandisement.

The demand by the GMOA to ensure that their kids be admitted to leading schools is by no means a too-old incident for the discerning public to forget. The doctor-fathers who received their secondary education from schools in the provinces demanded bigger and better schools for their children even at the expense of breaching Government circulars, thus creating a travesty of fairness. Their attempt to siege the Ministry of Education was perceived to be a demonstration of “benefit consciousness” at any cost.

The GMOA’s current struggle to rescue free education from the clutches of private education is more than an empty rhetoric which will bring its Achilles’ heel. There are many reasons to say so. The GMOA’s main concern right now is SAITM. According to them SAITM is a forerunner to open several private medical colleges in Sri Lanka and such colleges will produce incompetent doctors thus risking the lives of the patients. So they are very concerned about the patients. 

The prevailing trade union action implemented by the GMOA is focused on the demand to either close the private medical college or nationalise the institution. (As much as this writer respects the argument that the private medical colleges should not be allowed to produce unskilled medical practitioners, the writer strongly believes that private educational institutions, be it medical, management, marketing, IT, law or any other should be allowed to offer their services under strict supervision.) Assuring quality and attacking the private institutions are completely two different things. 

The GMOA stalwarts act as if they were deaf, dumb and blind when their present purported masters of the Joint Opposition granted the approval for the establishment of SAITM in 2008. Therefore it is pertinent to ask whether they were really ignorant of the looming danger which they could not foresee at that time, but see now, or they were scared of the white vans so that they did not raise the concerns.

The GMOA’s stance on SAITM provoke the public mind and they should answer following questions: 

Does GMOA only enrol medical practitioners with MBBS from State universities?

Does it not recognise any MBBs qualification conferred by a private medical college?

Does it not have members who have obtained their post graduate qualifications from private medical colleges? 

The GMOA seemingly ignores the fundamental arguments in a national discourse of this nature. They do not deal with the fact that only a limited number of opportunities are available in medical faculties of State universities and the Government cannot afford to accommodate all who want to be doctors. Neither they propose a mechanism to ensure quality of education provided, for which a supervisory panel can be appointed nor a solution to the lack of adequate training and exposure due to less number of patients in the private teaching hospitals for which the solution is to allow, or make it compulsory, the private medical students to undergo training in State teaching hospitals.

The current pressure by the GMOA to abolish SAITM appears to be a mockery. Their actions can only be alluded to a Sinhala adage which says that the peacock does not realise its rear is exposed when it proudly displays its elegant feathers. GMOA’s recent actions have succeeded in explicitly implying its political affiliations and its modus operandi to topple the Government to bring their masters of the Joint Opposition. The GMOA has hardly reprimanded the Government for shortages of drugs or medical paraphernalia and they have not threatened to strike unless the Government takes steps to prevent waste and corruption. Had they done so, people would have kept them on a pedestal. 

The members of the GMOA should understand that their leaders are carrying out a political contract bringing disrepute to the profession. Their action only provoke the public who will, in the very near future, demand a ban on private practice. They should not forget that they were not forced to be doctors and the cost for their tertiary education was born by the people. While most of the GMOA members are noble in serving the people, it is sordid that a few top brass of the organisation operate with ulterior motives and manipulate the situation. 

History reveals that most demands made by the doctors with regards to their salary, perks and fringe benefits were met for which the public have never opposed. If the current struggle by the GMOA is to persuade the Government to increase their emoluments, the general public may see it as a fair demand given the yeoman service rendered by a medical practitioner. Nevertheless, they will not tolerate the current course of actions by the GMOA, which keep the people at ransom, to topple the regime, for the simple reason that it is the people who brought in the change not the bigwigs of the GMOA.

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