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
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
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
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
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.