ECONOMYNEXT – Government doctors called off their three-day work stoppage Saturday shortly after a consumer protection organization threatened to invoke the wrath of gods on them and socially ostracize the striking medical officers.
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said they decided to “temporarily suspend” the trade union action after continuing a strike across all state-sector hospitals for three straight days to protest private medical education.
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.
“We were planning to launch our activities from Sunday, but we are pleased to note that the GMOA has called off the strike shortly after we issued our warning,” NMCPR leader Ranjith Vithanage said.
However, the faction-ridden GMOA said the decision to halt the work stoppage followed a “positive meeting” with President Maithripala Sirisena.
GMOA spokesman Samantha Ananda said the president had agreed to take “positive steps” to resolve issues surround 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 after a meeting with the president on Saturday morning. He did not say if the government had committed to any specific moves.
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.
Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne has repeatedly asked the GMOA why they were silent for eight years and decided to raise the SAITM issue under the new government which was not responsible for creating the situation. He has said that GMOA president Anuruddha Padeniya was dreaming of becoming a prime minister under a Rajapaksa presidency and that GMOSA action was politically motivated.
Although the GMOA said the government had been positive to their demands and agreed to a mechanism to resolve the issue, there was no immediate word from the authorities.
However, government sources said they had only reiterated their position on the need to improve standards of education and service delivery and there was no shift in the state policy of the administration regarding private medical education.
A clash erupted between two GMOA factions on Thursday with one doctor smashing a ceramic tea cup on the face of another colleague and breaking his nose. The bleeding doctor was admitted to the Colombo National Hospital where he spent overnight even as his colleagues were on strike.
The doctor who was assaulted had wanted a two-week strike while others wanted shorter work stoppages so that they could keep up their lucrative private practices going.
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, Padeniya hurriedely 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.
The four policemen were later taken to the police hospital after being deprived of any Medicare for three hours. Hospital authorities confirmed that the policemen were denied treatment, but the GMOA routinely denied it. (COLOMBO, June 24, 2017)