Confusion reigned over the Appeal Court ruling on the Malabe Private Medical College (SAITM), even by yesterday, with parties on both sides of the divide trading verbal blows over the controversial judgment allowing SAITM medical graduates to be registered under the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC).
The judgment delivered on a case filed by one of the MBBS graduates of the private medical college, laid to rest years of uncertainty for the passing out medical graduates of the Institute.
However, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) and the university student unions launched an all out war last week, consequent to the Appeal Court ruling on January 31, which happened to be a judgment least anticipated by the opponents of the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine Limited (SAITM). The SLMC remained silent over the ruling but said, they would appeal the decision.
The judgment was given wide publicity and the GMOA later accused the Health Minister, Dr.Rajitha Senaratne, for flouting his responsibility as one of the key respondents, and failing to submit all available evidence to defend the case, thereby helping SAITM win a favourable ruling. While the SLMC was getting ready to follow the due process of the law to appeal to the Supreme Court against the Appeal Court ruling, the GMOA threatened the government with islandwide trade union action.
“If no action is taken by the government within the next seven days, we will call up the biggest ever trade union action by state doctors. The entire state hospital sector will be crippled as a result,” the GMOA threatened.
The Inter University Student Federation and Medical Faculty Student Union took to the streets for days, disrupting public life and compelling the police to use water cannon and tear gas to disperse the unruly protestors.
GMOA Secretary, Dr.Nalinda Soysa said, the President should exercise his executive powers to quash the Appeal Court ruling. When asked what can be done by the Government against a court order, he said, there are many possibilities, “the President can exercise his executive powers or else the ruling can be reversed by an Act of Parliament.” The GMOA is expected to meet the President to discuss the situation. The clock is ticking with the GMOA’s ‘one week threat’ on Thursday. The irony is that the poor patients, whose rights and lives the GMOA is keen to protect will be adversely affected if not ‘lost’ by their continuous strike. The GMOA denied this prospect and said, their action will be for a good cause.
Explaining, Dr. Soysa said, ‘the previous government resorted to military means to crush the LTTE terror, our action is launched in the same spirit’.
The outcome of their strike will be beneficial to the people, the GMOA Secretary stressed.
To top it all, the Doctors called a half day lightning strike on Friday, in protest of the tear gas attack and the arrest of marching university students near the Lotus Road roundabout on Thursday.
Meanwhile, the parents of the SAITM medical students holding a press conference on Thursday accused the GMOA of a malicious campaign against SAITM. They said, the GMOA was afraid of losing their grip on state doctors and their intention is to protect nothing but their monopoly within the system.
SLMC Chairman, Prof.Carlo Fonseka told Sunday Observer, the Council will call an emergency session on Wednesday where they are expected to take certain crucial decisions. “I have strong feelings against the ruling, but, my lips are sealed until Wednesday,” he said, adding, “I am just a puppet in this whole private medical college issue”.
He said, “of course the due process of law is to be followed,” meaning that the SLMC will appeal against the Court ruling. Prof. Fonseka earlier said, he would resign if the SLMC decides to register the SAITM medical degree holders. He had always expressed critical views of SAITM which he said, lacked proper facilities to train qualified doctors, a view strongly shared by the GMOA.
Following the January 31 Court ruling, a hurried meeting of the GMOA central committee was held on Thursday where its branch unions conveyed their respective decisions on a future course of action. The GMOA Secretary said, their decision to resort to tough trade union action was unanimous, yet, witnesses at the central committee meeting said, there had been dissenting views. The 112 branch unions of the GMOA held emergency meetings the previous day to discuss their respective stance.
The GMOA office bearers also met their SLMC counterparts on Thursday. “We discussed ways to protect the standard of medical studies in the country and protect the rights of the patients,” Dr.Soysa said, adding that the SLMC was the one and only regulatory authority on medical studies in the country and the court ruling has set a bad precedent by not recognizing the SLMC’s foremost place. They said, this will lead to undermine the SLMC’s future rulings, for instance, over expelling a doctor.
They accused, that the Health Minister was trying to produce low cost, low quality medical students, just like he offered low cost, low quality drugs to the people. He said, the former Health Minister who is the current President, did not share the opinion of the current Health Minister that SAITM is suitable to train doctors.
“Our stance has not changed, the SLMC stance has not changed, we want to know if the Health Ministry has shifted from its earlier held position.”
They alleged, the Minister was being driven by personal interests because his daughter- in- law is a SAITM Medical student.
The GMOA demanded the Health Minister to immediately issue a gazette notification setting the minimum criteria for medical studies in Sri Lanka and publicize the technical report prepared by the SLMC on SAITM.
GMOA Assistant Secretary, Dr. Haritha Aluthge said, they will organize a massive campaign against the decision to register SAITM students, jointly with student unions, parents’ unions and groups representing patients’ rights. “We will launch a massive awareness campaign targeting the public, before the trade union action,” he said. A panel of legal experts of the GMOA is currently studying the Court of Appeal judgment.