Right of Reply: Are doctors on strike everyday?

2017-06-20 00:06:51

A usual scene at a govt. hospital

I was hoping to continue my discussion from where I stopped on June 13 in the article titled “Spotlight on doctors, earnings disregarding their service” regarding some issues pointed out by Mr. Roshan Dodanwela in his article on May 31. However, an article by Mr. Sarath N. Perera published on June 13 warrants addressing as well. It also contained some misinterpretations and erroneous statements that should be corrected.  
Mr. Perera, being a learned lawyer, has completely missed the essence of my very first article (published on May 24), the key point being that doctors should not be judged by an occasional strike, but by what is carried out daily. His article reminds me of the blind man who took hold of the elephant’s tail and thought it was the elephant in its entirety. But when a person with sight does that, he’s deliberately ignoring the obvious. 
Mr. Perera looks at a day when doctors have been on strike and thinks it’s all they do, completely disregarding what they do on other days, thereby painting a distorted picture of doctors wasting public money. He seems to have written his article with this fallacy. He has misinterpreted several points I mentioned to suit his agenda, thereby causing irreparable damage to the opinion of the same fair-minded and balanced citizens he has mentioned, who come to government hospitals day after day and reap the benefits of public health services provided by doctors (and other staff) educated with their money. Hence, while Mr. Perera has the right to hold onto his wrong impression, if he so wishes, it is our duty to enlighten the public regarding the truth so they won’t be misled. Also, the recent strikes have been due to politicians dragging on the issues without properly addressing and resolving them despite repeated requests; and even during strikes, about ninety percent of work is still carried out (as pointed out in my first article) which goes unnoticed as usual.  



Mr. Perera at a certain point has commented “…by citing many an occasion on how politicians are playing out public funds, the author cannot justify the doctors and medical students wasting public money…”. However, my article was to emphasize that we DON’T waste public money, hence how would I “justify” it? Not only is it a misinterpretation but also an erroneous statement, as it implies I have accepted that like politicians, we are also wasting money, which is his opinion and not mine.   
Another fabrication is that I’m “…trying to single out doctors in the GMOA and portray them as a special category of government servants on the basis that they contribute to the free healthcare services…”. For one thing, I never mentioned anything about the GMOA as I was writing on behalf of all doctors irrespective of the union, though Mr. Perera keeps referring to the GMOA. Also, I’m not trying to “single out” doctors by mentioning the services we provide but trying to affirm that we are carrying out our duties as expected; and although he accuses that I was “..conveniently forgetting..” that we are taught by the state for those very purposes, what I emphasised was that we were already fulfilling them day in and day out, while people like 
Mr. Perera are conveniently forgetting we do so because of an occasional strike.  



"Mr. Perera looks at a day when doctors have been on strike and thinks it’s all they do, thereby painting a distorted picture of doctors wasting public money"


Both Mr. Dodanwela and Mr. Perera have missed my point regarding medical students. I didn’t “complain about the difficulties”, nor give it as “another reason why doctors should be treated differently from other professionals” as Mr. Perera has (once again) misinterpreted. What I stated was their commitment, effort and hardships are completely ignored, and money is the only factor talked about regarding medical education. I didn’t mention students of other faculties in my first article because it was irrelevant to my topic (which was about doctors and medical education) and not because I was “in the complete dark” about their difficulties. But since both gentlemen have raised that issue, I would make a few comments.  
Mr. Perera talks about taxpayers’ money allocated for free medical education and therefore doctors are “eternally indebted to the ordinary citizen” and there is a duty and obligation to serve his/her motherland rather than pursuing greener pastures abroad. Unfortunately, he seems to be in the dark that they apply to all streams of higher education. All university students are educated with taxpayers’ money. However, how many contribute to the public sector after passing out? While emphasising my intention not to make any discriminations, it has to be said that apart from the medical faculty and a few others, only a minority of those in other faculties would work in the public sector to serve the people who funded their education, while the majority would work in the private sector, abroad, or remain unemployed. But no one complains about the waste of public money spent on them, or about their “eternal debt”. I’m not saying it’s their fault, as the government has failed to absorb them into the public sector and make use of their services. My point is that while a vast majority of doctors are giving back their services to the public health system after passing out, there are still those criticised for “wasting public money” based on an infrequent strike, which is unreasonable and totally absurd. It is not only doctors but numerous other government employees (who would also have been educated with the taxpayers’ money) who go on strike, but nobody talks about wasting public money on their education. Hence, obviously there’s discrimination and even professional jealousy towards doctors.  



Mr. Perera has questioned why doctors of the GMOA are joining with government medical students and causing them to refrain from carrying on educational activities while private medical college (PMC) students are allowed to carry on. It’s a well-known fact that throughout history, university students have protested whenever they are faced with unresolved issues, especially against threats to free education, and it’s the same situation at present. It’s the students’ decision and not caused by doctors, which is a baseless allegation. Regarding the so-called PMC students, leaving aside their educational activities, actually they shouldn’t be there in the first place because among other things, it’s lacking, it hasn’t got SLMC approval and there were warnings by the SLMC to the public, which students and their parents have disregarded.  
Mr. Dodanwela has commented on “the burden of accountability” when working abroad. If accountability is such a burden in foreign countries, why do some doctors migrate and seek employment abroad? And when they start feeling the “burden”, why don’t they come back? Obviously, it’s not an issue for doctors doing their job properly; and when he states “so doctors have it easy here where accountability is concerned”, I wonder whether he’s implying that doctors here are careless and negligent, because it’s due to vigilance and proper care that thousands of lives are saved daily. Unfortunately, when things run smoothly, they go unnoticed as always, and a few isolated incidents are given enormous publicity. It must be emphasized that certain incidents publicized in the media where doctors are accused of medical negligence are interpreted by people or journalists with no medical background and the truth could be completely different when analyzed correctly from a medical point of view.  



An issue regarding our medical standards has also been pointed out by Mr. Dodanwela. Though they are “nowhere near the best compared to Switzerland, Norway or Australia”, it’s absurd, even ridiculous, to compare our services with those countries. Doctors there work under ideal conditions, excellent facilities, comfortable environments and have enough time to spend on a patient. The conditions we work under don’t come anywhere close, with a heavy workload, overcrowding, time constraints and insufficient facilities and staff. While admitting that it’s good to explain to the patient their medical condition, medication, side-effects and so on, unfortunately it’s not practical here because the situation doesn’t allow for that. There are three to four hundred patients appearing in a few hours in clinics and thousands of patients in OPDs, which means that only a few minutes can be spent with a patient to get their relevant details and to examine them and prescribe medication. If we try to follow what’s done in the above mentioned countries, we won’t be covering even half the number of patients in the available time. However, any significant issues would be conveyed to the patient.  
Towards the end of his article, Mr. Dodanwela states “… but when doctors go on strike, people suffer and can die”. Though doctors don’t let people die even when on strike, the concealed meaning of this statement carries an important valid point, which is,”because of what doctors do everyday, people’s lives are saved and their suffering alleviated”. Mr. Perera also states (while forgetting the work done in a hospital even during a strike) that “…almost all government hospitals are at a standstill at the time of the strike”, and that working hours of other workers are lost due to work stoppages of doctors. If that is so, he has to admit that on all other days, government hospitals function smoothly because of the work carried out by doctors, which he has totally ignored.  



Finally, considering the articles by the two gentlemen, one can see that to conclude that public money spent on doctors has gone to waste, Mr. Dodanwela has only considered our “perks” and “rewards” and a few negative issues, ignoring numerous positives, thousands of lives saved and illnesses cured; and Mr. Perera has only considered the ten percent of work that’s not done on the day of an occasional strike, while disregarding the hundred percent service provided day after day. It’s like considering only the tail and concluding that the elephant is like a rope, hence the money spent on it is a waste. The public should realize this obvious distortion and look beyond the tail at the elephant carrying logs.  
I wrote this (and the previous) article hoping to clear up some issues that were pointed out. However, I won’t be surprised if someone still finds something to argue about saying we are wasting public money. I appeal to the public not to judge doctors by strikes alone, which is only done about one percent of the time, but by the remaining ninety nine percent where they provide services for the public. Only then will you see the correct picture.  

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