Agony & Anger
SAITM: Student aspirations confront qualifying
With two court hearings pending in the coming week, the first batch
of graduates from the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM)
are fighting back to be recognized by the Sri Lanka Medical Council (
SLMC) and allowed to work in Sri Lanka. The latter however, states SAITM
doesn't meet the prescribed standards.
Following graduation from SAITM, the issue arose when a student
attempted provisional registration at the SLMC, for internship
appointments. For State university graduates, the SLMC provides the
Provisional Registration before appointing them on the internships,
following which permanent registration could be applied for by the
student. However, this student was denied registration claiming that
SAITM is not a recognized degree provider in Sri Lanka.
Separately, the students have now filed a Fundamental Rights petition
in the Supreme Court seeking an order to redraft the Medical Service
Minute to enable non-state universities and non-state recognized degree
awarding institutes within Sri Lanka, to be recruited to state medical
service. The Supreme Court has directed the Attorney General to
ascertain from the Health Ministry and the Public Service Commission
whether Section 29 of the Medical Ordinance could be amended.
However, the lack of a favourable nod from the SLMC is holding down
accepting the SAITM graduates into the local healthcare system. The
Higher Education Ministry and the University Grants Commission carry a
conditional clause stating that their approvals are invalid unless the
SLMC recognizes the private degree providing institute. Gazette No
1824/21 dated August 22 2013 states , "In the case of study program in
medical sciences, the teaching hospital to which the student has access
and provided with clinical training, must conform to the standards
stipulated by the Sri Lanka Medical Council".
SLMC Official Report to the Health Minister on September 4 2015, on
the suitability for recognition of graduates of SAITM, to be registered
under the Medical Ordinance, stated that the degree awarded by SAITM
should not be recognized for the purpose of registration under the
The report stated, according to information supplied by SAITM in
2015, of the 12 batches consisting 846 students admitted to SAITM since
its inception, the first seven batches, with 363 students, were
undergoing clinical training in the wards of the hospital set up with
the specific purpose of giving clinical training to students of SAITM,
'Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital', at the time, and faced serious
inadequacy in the clinical training of its students.
"Clearly so many students having access to so few patients cannot be
expected to receive adequate clinical training," the report reads, and
that it is a 'startling contrast' to what obtains in the state medical
Further, writing to the Attorney General on October 23, 2014, the
Secretary to the Ministry of Health informed, while the Minister is
willing to facilitate the required clinical training at a state
university, "SAITM remains responsible to adhere to all laws and
regulations... and fulfil the requisite standards applicable and ...
recognized by the Sri Lanka Medical Council and or any other relevant
The government however, is yet to establish a framework to include
the newly accredited schools into the system. A student representative
of the SAITM graduates, rquesting anonymity told the Sunday Observer
that as far as they are aware, SAITM is a degree providing institute
recognized by the Sri Lanka University Grants Commission and the Higher
"Therefore, legally, we should be allowed to work in Sri Lanka. We
really hope we will be allowed to," he said.
Initially, SAITM signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the
Homagama General Hospital in 2012 to facilitate clinical training for
its students, but after a day of training, it was discontinued as
The later attempts to affiliate Sri Jayawardenapura Teaching Hospital
with SAITM to conduct clinical training too got watered down end of last
year. Currently, students of SATIM are allowed to undergo the mandatory
clinical training at Asiri, Nawaloka, Lanka Hospitals as well as the
Neville Fernando Hospital.
The students assured they are exposed to the same sicknesses a state
medical student in a state hospital would be, though not in the same
"It will be similar to accepting students from foreign medical
degrees, who haven't had the same exposure a local medical student
would," they argued. The political motives aside, they said their desire
is to work in Sri Lanka, not in Russia, where SAITM held affiliation
with a university for the first four years since establishment.
Students claimed, compared to facilities provided at medical
faculties in state universities in rural areas, SAITM had better
facilities. Further, despite their affirmation that Section 19A of the
Medical Ordinance doesn't specify minimum standards to allow medical
students from private universities to enter the healthcare service in
Sri Lanka, the said Section also specified that the SLMC can conduct
inquiries, and investigations to determine whether "the staff,
equipment, accommodation and facilities provided by such university or
institution for such course of study, conform to the prescribed
Nevertheless, the students are hopeful, as their legal counsels have
confirmed that " it's a clear-cut" case."
SAITM academic staff were unavailable for comment. However, when
contacted a fortnight ago, Head of Department of Forensic Medicine,
SAITM Prof. Ananda Samarasekera said, under the Medical Ordinance, the
SLMC "has no right to legally refuse registration."
"The Medical Council has to act in accordance with the rules
specified in the Medical Ordinance. Under section 29 of the Ordinance
MBBS degrees awarded by a recognized state or degree awarding
institution are equal in terms of the law.," He explained that the SLMC
has guidelines but not regulations laid down on paper, approved by
Parliament and gazetted.
"The committee had reported to the Health Ministry the deficiencies
based on their guidelines," he noted. Asked of the predicament of the
students, he assured the management would ensure the students have a
"We have not achieved anything easily at SAITM as we had to go to
courts often. This time too it is no different," he said.
[SLMC STANDS FIRM]
As undergrads from both, state universities and the Malabe private
university ( SAITM) cross swords over the contentious issue of whether
SAITM students should be given the licence to practise , the deciding
Council - the SLMC revealed, it would stand by the decision of the ten
member Committee which visited SAITM this month on an inspection tour.
President , SLMC , Professor Carlo Fonseka told the Sunday Observer ,
Saturday, the team headed by one of Sri Lanka's foremost authorities,
Professor Rizwi Sheriff , had found that little had been done to address
the area of clinical training. " Lack of adequate clinical training will
adversely affect patient safety", he said. Secondly, unlike in a general
hospital setting where students are exposed to a wide spectrum of
diseases, SAITM students had access only to a very limited mix of
patients. On these grounds the Council concluded that the Malabe
university was not geared for patient safety which is the ultimate duty
of the SLMC, " Prof. Fonseka said. " It was the unanimous decision of
the Committee that students who qualified from an internal examination
at the College, should not be given registration and the licence to
practise by the SLMC.
He alleged, around 183 students had quit, " after they realized they
had been cheated with false promises. In fact most of the claims made by
the Founder of the College, Dr Neville Fernando, are not true. Wittingly
or unwittingly the public have been deceived", he charged.
He said, this being the first private medical college in the country,
it was doubly important that the highest standards in medicine be
maintained. He also noted that when the very first private medical
college, the North Colombo Medical College at Ragama was set up in 1981,
the first thing the College of General Practitioners did was to build a
proper hospital on government land. However, this is now part of the
Kelaniya University after it was nationalized.
Asked about the fate of the students who had spent over seven years
studying at the College, he said , " The SLMC has already addressed the
matter and it is something that has to be negotiated".
Meanwhile, the Government Medical Officers Association ( GMOA) , the
largest medical trade union in the island, has threatened to conduct a
leaflet campaign on Monday followed by an all island token strike on
July 4 from 8 a.m.-12 noon to convey their stand on the issue. GMOA
spokesman Dr Navin de Soyza told the Sunday Observer, " Our message is
addressed to all parties who have vested interests in this issue
including politicians, who collectively are trying to harm patients'
rights. The SLMC has the sole responsibility of maintaining quality
patient care. Any attempt to encroach on their territory will affect the
SLMC and in turn patient care."
He said, all unions in the health sector , the doctors' association,
and medical students' union have joined hands in this cause, and will
take to the streets tomorrow.
" If after this, we see further pressure by politicians in this
matter, we may have to resort to drastic measures", he warned.
Sri Lanka Medical Association ( SLMA) sources when contacted refused
to comment as a court case was pending.