Making a difference

Saturday, 22 September 2012 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

DOCTORS unions and the Government have not always managed to get along as the masses can attest but the latest demand of allowing public doctors to work in private hospitals may result in another serious disagreement.


Sri Lankan doctors’ union, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) says the Health Ministry was appointing inexperienced doctors as specialists in private hospitals. According to reports they have requested that the Government allow them to practice at private hospitals as well.

Head of the GMOA, Dr. Anuruddha Padeniya has said that most foreign doctors are appointed as specialists lack the experience. Explaining that a doctor has to spend 14 years to earn the title ‘specialist’, Dr. Padeniya said that the lives of the patients are at risk due to the appointment of inexperienced doctors.

According to Dr. Padeniya, a law was passed in May to check the qualifications of all the doctors, who are working as specialists, and 18 applications were cancelled as a result.  However, the Health Minister on 4 July had recruited all 18 of those doctors and registered them, even though they were temporary without following the proper procedure, he added.

The GMOA has stated that there are 186 such doctors working in Colombo and has called on the Health Ministry to look into the matter. While it is common for doctors to work in private hospitals or have private practice allowing them to do so by rule of law would be a new development for the country.

In a sense many would point out that since this happens in practice allowing local doctors to work at private hospitals and reduce the number of foreign doctors in Sri Lanka is a sound move. They would point out that the current regulations leave the patient in danger since foreign doctors may not be fully qualified to handle the responsibilities of the treatment.

Others may opine that doctors, who are educated by the free education system of Sri Lanka should make it their priority to treat patients that come to public hospitals – often from rural and poor backgrounds. If doctors are allowed to work in more lucrative positions in private hospitals then they may ignore such patients. Stopping foreign doctors from practicing in Sri Lanka might also mean that rare treatments and specialities would not be available in the country.  Such a move could also increase the earning capacity of urban doctors more than rural ones resulting in more disparity between the two groups.

Most people turn to private hospitals not necessarily because they have more money but because they expect better service. Doctors, local or foreign, have to ensure that they treat patients with empathy and support. Assuring competent and professional treatment at all levels, public and private, are some of the steps that the doctors also have to take to prove that they are on the side of the people.

Allowing malpractices to be punished, minimising strikes and other actions that create hardship for patients are all part of upgrading professional services. While the issue of public doctors working in private hospitals is something for the policy makers to sort out it cannot be overshadowed by the need to better overall professional treatment of patients if the GMOA truly wants to make a difference.