Gazette minimum standards for Medical Education - Dr. Naveen de Soysa
By Umesh Moramudali and
Come next week, the Healthcare system of the entire country is likely come to a standstill due to a possible strike action to be launched by the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) against the government's ignorance over the issues relating to the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM).
Speaking to Ceylon Today, GMOA General Secretary Dr. Naveen de Soysa explained the stance of the association.
Following are excerpts of the interview:
?: SAITM issue appears to have reached a peak. What is status of the GMOA struggle against SAITM as at now?
A: We have been raising concerns regarding the existence of SAITM from 2010. The fight against SAITM came to a turning point with the Court decision; most of those who support SAITM interpret this decision in their favour. Court had acknowledged the investigations carried out by the SLMC regarding the standards of the SAITM. However, the Health Minister has to make the recommendations of the SLMC legitimate.
There is no gazette specifying the minimum standards for medical education. As a result of that there is no legal value for standards in medical education. It is the Health Minister who has failed to do its job. Then he informed the Court that the SLMC has no power.
Our major demands are: gazetting the minimum standards for medical education in Sri Lanka; that the Health Minister should accept the SLMC Report on SAITM and inform the Higher Education Ministry that the SAITM was not in compliance with the SLMC standards and stop recruitment and nationalize SAITM. Then we can think of the students there. Initially the response of the government was to take action against SLMC and support SAITM. Now even the government ministers are concerned about the quality of medical education. They openly speak about the issues at SAITM. That itself is good progress.
?: Isn't the Health Minister obliged to gazette these minimum standards?
A: No. The Medical Ordinance specifies that for medical standards to become law, the Health Minister has to gazette it. It does not specify about obligations of the Health Minister.
?: So the Health Minister is not accountable to anyone?
A: No. That is the issue in Sri Lanka. In any other country, the Health Minister would have resigned. The Health Minister had failed to do the job. However, ministers do not resign on ethical grounds. Further, there are many allegations against the minister regarding his biasness towards the SAITM.
?: So there is an issue in the Medical Ordinance, particularly in relation to the obligations to gazette medical standards?
A: I do not think that there is a big issue in the Medical Ordinance although the Health Minister is not obliged in this instance. However, as per the Constitution, the Health Minister has violated the Human Rights of the people to a quality health service.
?: In that context, can a complaint be lodged against Health Minister for violating Human Rights?
A: As per my understanding, yes. At the moment we are closely looking at the possibilities of filing a case against the Health Minister for violation of Human Rights. However, HR complaints take time; hence by the time the Court case is over, the damage will be done. We can't get an injunction order for a HR action; hence we cannot stop the fraud of SAITM using HR application.
? : Why doesn't the GMOA push for amendments to the Medical Ordinance?
A: We have requested for an amendment to the Medical Ordinance. Not only the Health Minister, the former Higher Education Minister and the present Education Minister are also responsible for this crisis. The University Act specifies that for an institute to get degree awarding status, it has to obtain the UGC approval and the compliance certificate by the technical body such as the SLMC. Higher Education Ministry is supposed to check both these certificates, prior to giving degree awarding status. SAITM does not have the compliance certificate from the SLMC. It is through this that the University Act and Medical Ordinance are connected. However, this fact was not explained to the Court by anyone.
As long as the Health Ministry as well as the Higher Education Minister take proper action, the issues will remain.
?: Does that mean the SLMC is a fangless cobra?
A: In a way yes. SLMC can give recommendations and such recommendations are accepted legally only after such recommendations are gazetted by the minister. If the Health Minister truly cares about the public, he should tell the country that whether he agree with the SLMC recommendations regarding SAITM.
?: Recently, the way in which SAITM was given degree awarding status was questioned by the COPE. Can't you take action based on those findings?
A: Actually the COPE Report is not out yet. We have heard that there are multiple opinions in Court regarding the SLMC. Many people had supported it too. Till the Report is out, we can't do anything. SAITM has advertised claiming it has SLMC recognition. That itself is enough to take action against SAITM. Sadly, the former government as well as the present government is afraid of it.
?: Why doesn't the GMOA take action?
A: We tried. We requested to be a part of the Court of Appeal hearing, however, we were not given a chance.
?: Can't you file another action in Court?
A: We are hoping to file a writ application. However, we are more focused on our political power and using it. Certain politicians hide facts to Court, hence this requires political aspect. President has said that the final decision will be the decision taken by the appointed Committee.
?: Tell us about the planned strike action?
A: So far, 100 unions have joined with us. As you know we had engaged in trade union action at provincial level. We go step by step. We have mutual understanding in the fight against SAITM.
If the government keeps ignoring the issue, we will engage in further trade union action. We have provided timelines to the respective ministers with our demands. If they fail to deliver we will not hesitate to launch countrywide strike action. It should be noted that it is not only the GMOA that will be engaged in trade union action. This trade union action will halt the entire country.
We have given time for the government and still do. If the government does not provide a positive response today, that is to say that gazetting the minimum standards for medical education in Sri Lanka, the Health Minister accepting the SLMC Report on SAITM and informing the Higher Education Ministry that the SAITM was not in compliance with the SLMC standards, stop recruitments to SAITM, we will launch a strike.
?: People claim that doctors launch strikes in government hospitals and continue private practice. Isn't it unfair?
A: You will see some sort of weakening of the private practice along with the planned strike. Usually we do not engage in channelling service when we engage in trade union action. We have no issue with stopping private practice.
?: What is the opinion of the GMOA regarding private medical colleges?
A: Well. First we must not confuse private medical education and SAITM. Our stance regarding SAITM is clear. We are of the view that SAITM is a failed project and it should be nationalized. There is no other alternative left.
However, private medical education is much broader topic. The President can appoint committees to look into this broader issue.
The way in which medical education is provided is a decision or rather a policy of the government. Whether it is fully State, fully private or combined with private and State must be decided by the government. It depends on the government policy. However, the quality of the medical practice cannot be compromised and GMOA is of the opinion that such quality has to be assured.
?: Are there children of GMOA members studying at SAITM?
A: Yes. There are. It is a private decision. However, we are opposed to SAITM as an institution.
?: Why was there no resistance during Rajapaksa's time?
A: There was. We have publically stated that the SAITM is a Sakvithi type fraud, in 2010.
?: However, when the gazette was issued regarding SAITM neither the GMOA nor IUSF challenged it in the Court?
A: Actually we received the gazette quite late. However, as soon as we got to know about the gazette we launched a countrywide strike. We do not get these to hand. Then we met the then Health Minister, however, that gazette is not even valid since there is no compliance certificate.
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