The free health service and free education service since independence in 1948 have been two of the main pillars to bring about equality and social justice in Sri Lanka, with healthy people and the highest literacy rate in Asia.
"Hundreds of patients who are warded in public hospitals say that most of the tests and drugs prescribed are not available in the public hospitals"
Tragically, after Sri Lanka swallowed the globalised, capitalist market economic policies, we are seeing a gradual and dangerous erosion in both these vital sectors and the consequences could be disastrous.
Today the Daily Mirror wishes to focus mainly on what is happening in the health sector. A fairly large budgetary allocation has been made for the health service, where we have hundreds of hospitals and medical clinics with more than 15,000 doctors, about 30,000 nurses and thousands of paramedical personnel. It is a massive operation but during the past three decades with the introduction of channelled practice and big private hospitals there have been subtle moves to undermine the public health service for various reasons including agendas for the private health sector to become a super profit making business at the expense of the patients.
Hundreds of patients who are warded in public hospitals say that most of the tests and drugs prescribed are not available in the public hospitals and they are forced to beg or borrow money to get the tests done at private hospital clinics or buy the drugs from private pharmacies.
Some years ago a law was passed to regulate and monitor the work and charges at private hospitals but little is apparently being done to implement this law and private hospitals have become a booming business. Consultation fees are not regulated and there are instances where some consultants charge as much as Rs.3,000 for urgent cases. Many patients say that non-essential tests are often prescribed and they are forced to pay huge amounts for these. In addition expensive drugs under a variety of brand names are prescribed in what people-friendly medical specialists see as a scandal of polypharmacy.
Medicine had begun as a vocation with doctors taking the Hippocratic Oath which says: “I do solemnly vow, to that which I value and hold most dear; that I will honour the profession of medicine, be just and generous to its members, and help sustain them in their service to humanity; that just as I have learned from those who preceded me, so will I instruct those who follow me in the science and the art of medicine; that I will recognise the limits of my knowledge and pursue lifelong learning to better care for the sick and to prevent illness; that I will seek the counsel of others when they are more expert so as to fulfil my vocation; that I will not withdraw from my patients in their time of need; that I will lead my life and practise my art with integrity and honour, using my power wisely; that whatsoever I shall see or hear of the lives of my patients that is not fitting to be spoken, I will keep in confidence; that into whatever house I shall enter, it shall be for the good of the sick; that I will maintain this sacred trust, holding myself far aloof from wrong, from corrupting, from the tempting of others to vice; that above all else I will serve the highest interests of my patients through the practice of my science and my art and that I will be an advocate for patients in need and strive for justice in the care of the sick. I now turn to my calling, promising to preserve its finest traditions, with the reward of a long experience in the joy of healing. I make this vow freely and upon my honour.”
We appeal to all doctors, whatever may have happened up to now, to renew their commitment to this oath and save the health service. This oath needs to be printed, framed and placed over every bed in every hospital, be it public or private.