Two shocking incidents in two private hospitals recently highlight the need for the government to regulate what is happening in the growing number of private hospitals and medical clinics where patients are known to be paying high consultation fees while expensive drugs are being prescribed and non-essential tests are being done.
This is happening though a law was passed several years ago to set up an authority to regulate the work of private hospitals. Little is known about what is being done by this authority while unsuspecting patients continue to be exploited. The health service has since 1977 deteriorated to such an extent that especially in the private sector it has become more a business than the noble vocation it was meant to be. Private hospitals and private medical consultants are known to be making millions; transnational drug companies are making billions while thousands of pharmacies – many of them illegal, are also making huge profits, all at the expense of patients. The government must act fast and effectively to restore a health service where the wellbeing of patients is given top priority. If this is not done and if we do not have a healthy and productive people we will not or never become a wealthy nation.
To restore a patient-friendly health service the government needs to identify the largely unseen structural injustices which turned a vocation into a profession and now into a booming business. That is why the wealthy elite are investing their ill-gotten millions in private hospitals.
One of the main structural injustices is the mysterious delay in implementing the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) whereby quality drugs could be made available to people at affordable prices. The NMDP based on the revered Prof. Senaka Bibile’s essential medicines concept was approved by the Cabinet as far back as October 2005. This came after Prof. Krishantha Weerasuriya the World Health Organisation adviser for drug policy in South Asia submitted a comprehensive draft to the Cabinet after several rounds of consultations with all stakeholders. But for the past eight years the President and two Health Ministers have promised time and again that draft legislation for the implementation of the NMDP would be presented in Parliament soon. Yet that soon has been lying under some sick bed or in a morgue apparently because powerful vested interests and other lobbies do not want it implemented.
Sri Lanka also needs a Charter of Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities, a Constitutional amendment to make health a fundamental right and a national policy on food and nutrition. Comprehensive drafts for these have been submitted by the People's Movement for the Rights of the Patients (PMRP) and other health action groups but little or no action has been taken by the government. If the Rajapaksa regime is serious about making Sri Lanka a wealthy nation, then it must give top priority to the restoration of a patient-friendly health service.