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DateLine Sunday, 11 May 2008





Marriage Proposals
Government Gazette

TUs hold patients to ransom

Irresponsible trade union action cost the lives of six innocent patients after health services were crippled last week at the Ratnapura General Hospital.

The drama began on May 2 after a nurse attached to the hospital allegedly had a verbal confrontation with a doctor. The trivial incident developed into a major tragedy which ultimately cost the lives of these innocent patients. The latest and the most unfortunate victims were three infants who died due to lack of proper medical care on Friday.

Who are those responsible for the six deaths? Isn’t this a heinous crime? In the first instance, why does the Health Ministry allow trade unions to play havoc and cause untimely deaths? We must find immediate answers to these questions and take remedial action to ensure that this type of unfortunate incidents do not recur in the future.

The doctor, who was apparently verbally abused by a nurse, took up the matter with his trade union. We do not know the banter which took place but it reached a level which caused the deaths of six innocent patients.

Following the doctor’s complaint, his trade union stepped into top gear - an irresponsible act that led to this tragedy. By Monday, all emergency services and work at the surgical units at the Ratnapura General Hospital came to a standstill as the doctors apparently tried to prove their superiority. Thereafter the nurses resorted to a token strike during the lunch hour against the doctors’ high-handed action.

When the doctors finally reported for work on Wednesday, the nurses who earlier spoke in favour of the patients when the doctors were on strike, they themselves started another strike. The successive trade union action brought immense hardships to the people in Ratnapura, as it was the only General Hospital for the entire district.

Employees in the state health sector now resort to trade union action even at the drop of a hat. We stressed this point in early January but neither the doctors nor the nurses seem to have learnt a lesson or understood the pathetic plight of innocent patients.

Doctors employed by the Government have made it a practice to resort to trade union action as and when they wish, ignoring their social responsibilities and obligations, Medical support staff - nurses, laboratory technicians or minor employees, too do likewise.

We respect the rights of all employees, be it in the public sector or elsewhere. But who is going to champion the rights of the patients, whose public funds are utilised to pay the salaries of doctors, nurses, technicians and minor employees?

These employees certainly have a right to strike as a trade union action, but what about the innocent patients too who have the right to live. Helpless patients should not be made cats-paws to win the rights of health sector employees.

Health workers have an inalienable right to take trade union action against serious matters concerning workers’ rights, but that does not mean that a trade union or a group of workers could hold a Government or patients to ransom.

Over the years Government doctors, nurses, lab technicians and minor employees of the Ministry of Health have been resorting to trade union action on a regular basis, regardless of the deadly impact their irresponsible act would have on the lives of the helpless poor. Is this ethical? Certainly not!

Health sector employees 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, called upon doctors to sign attendance registers, they rejected it in toto and took trade union action. Are they under an illusion that they are super public servants and could do anything and everything as the ‘spoilt child’ amongst public servants?

Doctors, nurses or any other segment of health sector employees should realise that this type of irresponsible action is not tolerated in other countries.Except for a handful of doctors with foreign qualifications, all Government doctors receive their entire education at no cost - from the kindergarten to passing out from the Medical College.

It’s the same with nurses who after receiving a free education, get intensive training at State nursing schools. In other words, most Government doctors and nurses have reached a level having utilised a staggering amount of public funds. It is the people in the provinces who have funded the education of these doctors and nurses.

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

Though various attempts were made to prescribe medicines bearing trade names, many state doctors were opposed to the ‘generic name only’ decision due to reasons best known to them. We all know that the international pharmaceutical trade is one big mafia. Multinational pharmaceutical giants would go to any extent to popularise their brand names.

Some doctors, who have become slaves of certain pharmaceutical companies, enjoy immense benefits, including the maintenance of their private vehicles, apart from overseas tours.Healthcare and Nutrition Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva has spared no pains to provide a better service to patients at Government hospitals.

But most employees are under the delusion that innocent patients should be satisfied with whatever facilities they get. Whatever said and done one fact should be borne in mind - the millions of rupees spent for the Health Ministry are valuable public funds. The less affluent patients certainly deserve a better deal for their money that is invested on the health sector.


Gamin Gamata - Presidential Community & Welfare Service
Ceylinco Banyan Villas

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