Doctors bitter with Sri Lanka President’s prescription

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government doctors who called off a strike after a “positive” meeting with President Maithripala Sirisena announced on Monday that they were bitter with his statement, which offered no concessions on key demands.

Tens of thousands of Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) members ended their three-day strike on Saturday after securing a meeting the President who made no promises and only reconfirmed the government’s stand on private medical education.

Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne said the GMOA was looking for a face-saving way to call off the strike amid intense pressure from within their own membership as well as patients who had lost patience with strikers.

“The idea of meeting the President was to tell their own membership that they had won concessions,” Senaratne said. “They (the GMOA) leaders wanted to mislead the membership and get their votes to retain positions in the executive committee.”

“They only managed to hoodwink their own members into thinking that that there was a change in government policy after their office bearers met with the President on Saturday. Nothing of that happened during this informal meeting.”

The Health minister accused the GMOA of blaming him for President Sirisena’s statement issued Sunday. The official statement made no reference to the GMOA meeting with the President, but reiterated the government stand on the private SAITM medical college.

A split in the GMOA turned violent on Thursday when one doctor smashed a cup on the face of another breaking his nose. Ironically, the injured doctor had to be rushed to the National Hospital Colombo where his own colleagues were on strike.

Several GMOA dissidents said the decision to call off their strike was fuelled by a threat issued by a consumer group to invoke curses on those refusing to treat patients at state hospitals.

The consumer rights group, the National Movement for Consumer Rights Protection (NMCRP), had said it will from Sunday stage ceremonies in front of the homes of GMOA executive committee members to invoke curses on them for holding hundreds of thousands of patients to ransom.

NMCPR leader Ranjith Vithanage said they were also planning a campaign to ostracize striking doctors by visiting the schools where their children studied. They wanted to discredit the strikers publicly by addressing students and their parents.

GMOA spokesman Samantha Ananda said on Saturday that the President had agreed to take “positive steps” to resolve issues surrounding the private South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM).





“The president agreed to take steps to improve standards of medical education and the quality of the medical service,” Ananda told reporters in Colombo.

However, an official at the Presidential Secretariat said his remarks were a misrepresentation of what transpired at the informal talks granted at the pleading of some GMOA members.

The SAITM was established in 2008 under former president Mahinda Rajapaksa, but the GMOA began pressing action to scrap the SAITM only recently under the new government of President Sirisena.

The GMOA argues that the education at SAITM is substandard and that many of its students do not have minimum qualifications for higher studies, a position challenged by the private college.

The government said the GMNOA was desperate to end the strike as their members could not engage in their lucrative private practice while a strike continued in state hospitals.

The GMOA chief Anuruddha Padeniya was caught accepting fee-paying patients at the Nawaloka hospital while he was on strike at his government job recently. After Padeniya was exposed by minister Ranjan Ramanayake, he hurriedly cancelled the private consultation for which he had obtained money.

Another faction of the GMOA had also noted that across the country the public opinion was turning against them and they should desist from resorting to strikes and think of other ways to win their demands.

A government doctor was confronted at his private practice  in Galewala on Friday while he was on strike at his state hospital. The doctor fled leaving his footwear behind at his private clinic when pursued by a television cameraman.

At Chilaw, patients turned restless as doctors refused to treat patients. There were similar incidents in many provincial towns.

Public anger mounted when doctors at the National Hospital Colombo refused to treat four police officers who were injured during a clash with students who stormed the Health ministry at Colombo on Wednesday.

(COLOMBO, June 26, 2017)

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