The deadline given by the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) for the government to settle the issue involving the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) lapsed yesterday. The powerful trade union of doctors had warned last week that they would decide on the course of action they would take if the government did not provide a solution for the issue within the deadline. In fact, although the medical doctors called for a solution for the SAITM issue in general, the only solution they press for has been the closure of the Private Medical College in Malabe or taking it over by the government which the government has rejected. They also had hinted last week that they would launch an islandwide strike to press the government towards their solution – the closure of the SAITM.
Apart from the SAITM being an institution that might affect the future revenue of the medical doctors in the lucrative health industry, the matter surrounding the institute has become a prestige issue for the GMOA and the government, especially Health Minister Dr. Rajitha Senaratna, after the Appeal Court verdict issued recently ordering the Sri Lanka Medical Council to provisionally register the MBBS graduates from the controversial private medical college. Hence, the reaction by the GMOA to the government’s apathy towards their demand this time might be strong. Most probably they might decide on an island-wide strike as indicated by them last week, but only in state hospitals. They might stop work in government hospitals and spare more time for private practice during the strike when more patients would turn to private hospitals. In any strike, whether it is launched by the doctors or the private bus operators or any other group, to maximize the effect or the success of it, the harm done to the people or to the authorities concerned or to both by the strike must also be maximized. Maximizing the effects of a strike by medical doctors means more deaths and more horror in hospitals.
"they might decide on an island-wide strike as indicated by them last week, but only in state hospitals"
People go to hospitals when their lives are in danger or when they are in severe pain. Therefore unlike in respect of other professions, defending work stoppages by doctors is very difficult, as it involves the very lives of the people whom the doctors claim to be fighting for. It is like the LTTE taking hostage the people whom they claimed to be fighting for during the last lap of the war. The strategy of the LTTE was and that of the doctors is to put the people’s lives in danger and push the government to come to the rescue of the people by way of giving in to their demands.
Demanding that a private medical college be closed down while being involved in the private health care industry is ludicrous and hypocritical. In fact people are affected not by the private health education but by the private hospitals where exorbitant amounts are levied as doctors’ fees and other charges. The mechanism of the private health industry has been arranged in such a manner that it would squeeze out the patients as much as possible and this was done through doctors who were mostly GMOA members. Even the poorest of the poor who opt for State hospitals are also not spared by this mechanism as they are being pushed to go to private hospitals for various tests costing thousands, citing long delays and various other reasons in state hospitals. The government recently decided to ban the blood tests of patients of the state hospitals done at private hospitals. But patients at State hospitals do not voluntarily opt for tests done at private hospitals. Will the GMOA come forward to launch a strike at private hospitals as well at the same time if they stop work at State hospitals. For an argument, we point out to them that it would further maximize the effect of their trade union action and show their genuineness as well in their struggle against SAITM.