A bunch of hypocrites masquerading as followers of Hippocrates! | Sunday Observer

A bunch of hypocrites masquerading as followers of Hippocrates!

Old habits die hard. That is why the dominant trade union of doctors, the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) launched an island-wide strike on Thursday and then hailed it as a huge success. What was the strike against? Apparently, it was a protest against a government decision to enter into a Free Trade Agreement with Singapore!

The next announcement we might hear is that the GMOA is staging a strike in support of private bus operators. Surely, the welfare of drivers and conductors must be as important to the doctors as are the ramifications of international trade!

For several years now, the GMOA had been riding the anti-South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) bandwagon. Though we feel their argument - that there should be no private medical education whatsoever in this country - was flawed, the GMOA had a right to protest in that instance because graduates of SAITM would be entering their profession. The GMOA claimed therefore, that they were fighting to maintain standards within their profession. The SAITM saga was never that simple because the GMOA never even raised a whimper of protest when SAITM was established under Mahinda Rajapaksa’s Presidency and GMOA leaders even campaigned for Rajapaksa- but that is a different story altogether.

For several years, the GMOA staged strike after strike, protest after protest, opposing SAITM. What it achieved was the closure of SAITM and depriving a generation of medical students - from not only SAITM but also from the state medical faculties - a few of the best years of their life.

The GMOA has had to shut down their campaign against SAITM because the government, buckling under intense pressure and with elections on the horizon, opted to abolish SAITM. This week, it announced that almost one thousand SAITM students would be absorbed into the Kotelawela Defence University (KDU).

Now, the GMOA has taken upon itself the task of opposing the FTA with Singapore. Previously, it had launched similar protests against the proposed Economic and Technology Co-operation Agreement (ETCA) with India. On that occasion, it claimed that thousands of unemployed doctors from India will flood Sri Lanka.

Doctors are a tightly regulated profession. They cannot simply arrive in a different country, set up shop and practise their profession. They need a professional licence to do so, a licence granted by the Sri Lanka Medical Council, the body regulating the medical profession in the country.

Does the GMOA want us to believe that doctors who work in Singapore under far more lucrative conditions will now come rushing to Sri Lanka because an FTA has been signed between the two countries? If the strike is to be justified, that is what their argument amounts to. Or, is it that the GMOA now stages strikes that could potentially cost lives merely to embarrass the government?

If the GMOA is really the virtuous organisation it claims to be, if it really cared about the interests of the less fortunate Sri Lankan citizen who is not able to afford private health care, it should turn the searchlight inwards and look at how its own members engage in private practice, the standards that they maintain and the fees they charge.

Walk into any major private hospital in the country after four o’clock - or indeed, even before that - and one can see the thriving business that passes by the name of private practice. Patients are seen at the rate of a dozen to the hour because, we must assume, the geniuses in the GMOA are able to diagnose, treat and heal them in a short span of five minutes, the moment they walk in through the door of the consultation room.

Their fees, of course, range from high to the exorbitant, but who are we to complain when supply consistently falls short of demand and there is no regulation whatsoever, either of doctors’ fees or of charges levied by private hospitals?

When the GMOA raised a hue and cry about SAITM, the thrust of their argument was that SAITM graduates would somehow be of lesser quality and would therefore be unable to safely practise in the medical profession. So, argued the GMOA, there should be stringent standards set and maintained, if they were to be allowed to work as doctors in this country.

That sounds reasonable enough because, after all, doctors do decide on peoples’ lives. Then, should it not automatically follow that the same stringent standards be maintained when doctors are practising medicine and not merely in training doctors?

Are such stringent standards maintained in private practice? Can they be maintained when patients are seen in five minutes and a prescription is written a couple of minutes after a doctor sets eyes on the patient? Can such standards be maintained when dozens of investigations are ordered for the slightest complaint, when spending more time with the patient would have made some of those investigations unnecessary? Can such standards be maintained when the fees of doctors are not regulated and is not known even by the tax man?

If the GMOA genuinely cares about the welfare of Sri Lankan patients and has their best interests at heart, should it not be fighting for these issues, instead of tilting at windmills, opposing international trade agreements?

Will we ever see the day when the GMOA launches a token strike to regulate private practice, insisting on a limit on the number of patients that can be seen by a doctor in an hour? Will the GMOA launch a strike demanding that fees charged by doctors and private hospitals be regulated?

Or should we call a spade a bloody spade and call the GMOA’s bluff? In reality, isn’t the GMOA trying to do exactly the opposite- doing everything possible to protect the doctors’ right to engage in private practice as and when they please and charge however much they want? Isn’t that why they are keen on opposing anything and everything that has even a semblance of a chance of breaking their monopoly in their profession?

All of the Sri Lankan public cannot be fooled all the time. Now they know: the GMOA is a bunch of hypocrites masquerading as followers of Hippocrates!