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DateLine Sunday, 13 January 2008

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Government Gazette

Irresponsible acts of doctors

The health sector resorts to trade union action even at the drop of a hat.

Doctors employed by the state have made it a practice to resort to trade union action as and when they wish, ignoring their social responsibilities and obligations, We respect the rights of all employees, be it in the public sector or otherwise.

We are cognizant that they have an inalienable right to take trade union action against serious matters concerning workers' rights. But that does not mean a trade union or a group of workers could hold a Government or people to ransom and threaten a legitimate Government like a terrorist outfit.

The Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) last week launched a sudden strike demanding the removal of the Health Minister from his post.

They organised a one-day strike without giving prior notice to the public.

As a result, thousands of helpless patients, many from the poorest social segments faced severe difficulties due to the strike.

This is not the first time that the GMOA has resorted to this type of action. Over the years Government doctors have taken such action, regardless of the deadly impact their irresponsible act would have on the lives of the helpless poor. Is this ethical? Certainly not by any means.

Government doctors often resort to such action even for the most trivial reason, feeling perhaps they are an influential white collar trade union.

When the Government, the employer, asked doctors to sign attendance registers, they rejected it outright and took trade union action. They are under an illusion that they are super public servants and could do anything and everything as the 'spoilt child' amongst public servants.

This type of irresponsible action is not tolerated in other countries.

The main demand of the doctors was to increase the transport and house rental allowances in keeping with the present cost of living. However, all Government doctors are entitled to duty free car permits and housing loans at very concessionary interest rates.

Yet, they do not touch on this preferential treatment they get compared to other public servants.

Except for the few with foreign qualifications, all Government doctors have obtained their entire education at no cost - from the kindergarten to passing out from the Medical College. In other words, most Government doctors have reached that level utilising a staggering amount of public funds. It is the people in the provinces who have funded the education of these doctors.

A colossal sum of money is spent on free education and the Government has been increasing it every year. In these circumstances, the Government doctors have a great social responsibility to serve the people who have spent public funds for their education.

From the beginning of this year, Government doctors have been prohibited from prescribing medicines bearing trade names. Many state doctors seem to have been greatly perturbed by the 'generic name only' decision due to obvious reasons.

The international pharmaceutical trade is said to be a big mafia and in order to use their brand names, they would go to any extent. Some doctors, who have become slaves of certain multinational pharmaceutical companies, get immense benefits, including the maintenance of their private vehicles, apart from overseas tours.

No doubt these doctors will lose all those with the implementation of the Government's ruling from January 1.

The ties between the Health Ministry and the doctors' trade union have been deteriorating since the Government began to reorganise the health service.

Some Government doctors even scoffed at the 'order' to write only the generic names of the medicines on their prescription. They considered this decision as an attempt to "fetch water with a bucketful of holes".

But the Government was obliged to take this decision to protect innocent patients from the multinational pharmaceutical mafia. If doctors even have a modicum of concern for the public, who have funded their education, they should endorse the decision and back the Government wholeheartedly.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa having met the GMOA, instructed the officials of the Salaries Commission and Ministry of Finance to study the salary structures of all health employees in the Government sector and to offer them a compensation scheme that offers the maximum benefits.

President Rajapaksa also pointed out that Sri Lanka has the highest proportion of Government servants in the world. He said that every one of six persons works for the Government and people spend a large sum of money to pay salaries for the 1.1 million pubic servants.

The Government's policy on medicines was also discussed during the meeting and the trade union assured its fullest support to the independent pharmaceutical policy introduced by Senaka Bibile. The President instructed the Health Ministry officials to implement the policy as early as possible.

Meanwhile, several civil organisations have informed Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva that they will sign a public petition with one million signatures against the GMOA and present it to the President.

Many civil organisations have decided on this course of action due to the conduct of the GMOA which they alleged was influenced by the multinational drug companies and certain elements in the private sector which now face a heavy loss of profits due to the Minister's fearless order to issue prescriptions under the generic names of drugs.

The Government should end these irresponsible acts of doctors to protect the hapless patients.

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Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
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Ceylinco Banyan Villas
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