I was compelled to write this article after listening to some comments made by certain people on TV, and reading some articles published in newspapers, regarding money spent to educate doctors; a hot topic these days (especially during trade union actions) used by many to condemn doctors.
“Doctors are educated with the taxpayers’ money. They should contribute to the free medical system of this country, serving the people who fund their education”.
This has become a manthra that’s repeatedly chanted by many; from politicians in the highest place to the ordinary man on the streets. However, (un)interestingly, their tongues don’t bend to say that the doctors are already contributing to the free health service, and serve the general public as they have been doing for a long time in this country.
Doctors working in the government hospitals are the ones who, after having made full use of the public money spent on them, are now giving their services back to the public without going after greener pastures abroad, where we could earn several times the salary we earn here, in addition to other privileges. We, along with other supportive staff, are providing public health services in the government hospitals throughout the country, covering 24 hours in all major hospitals, while maintaining high healthcare standards.
After accidents, conflicts, riots and other man-made or natural disasters, where are the casualties treated? During the war, where were the soldiers, bomb blast victims and other war casualties treated? All these are/have been carried out in government hospitals by these same doctors ‘educated with the public money’, with other healthcare workers; not in private hospitals or channeling centres. But we don’t”chant”these in public all the time saying we did this and that.
Unfortunately, on a day of a trade union action, all the work done and the service rendered on the rest of the three hundred and sixty odd days of the year suddenly become negligible, and doctors are looked down upon like villains, wasting public money spent on their education. Politicians and their stooges appear in media, and go to town slandering doctors, accusing them of holding patients as “hostages” like the terrorists. TV news bulletins are filled with scenes at hospital clinics and OPD’s, with people scolding and shouting, accusing that doctors are ‘killing’ patients. Some want doctors to be struck with ‘hena hatha’,and some want to throw ‘kunubiththara’ (pity they don’t realize it’s the same doctors that have been and, in the future, will be treating them for a long time).
Another sad situation is that public money spent is the only factor considered by everyone regarding the education of doctors. The skills, intellectual capacity, effort, commitment and sacrifices made by the doctors/medical students are taken out of the equation completely. Five years out of the best period of their lives are spent on learning and studying hard, away from home and loved ones, while still being financially dependent on their parents or siblings, and not being able to earn money to take care of their families, which is a major issue for poor students. Then, there is the huge amount of stress they have to work under due to the nature of the course. Unfortunately, these are only known to them and their families, while the public is completely oblivious to this side of the story. Ironically, some people think money is the decider for the students to become doctors (like in so-called private medical colleges). But the truth is, if the students don’t perform well enough, money cannot bail them out. So whether they pass out as doctors or not, lies in the hands of the students. At least, that’s the situation in
Then, there’s the biggest joke of all; that is, those who accuse doctors the most, the Ministers and other parliamentarians, are the worst culprits wasting public money. They get luxury vehicles (several of them) to parade the streets, tax free vehicle permits, apartments or their rents, health insurance, allowances, pension in 5 years, and other privileges (which keep increasing) amounting to enormous amounts. Also, the number of Ministers and Deputy Ministers keep increasing. Some appoint dozens of advisors (only God knows what advice they give) and other staff for themselves from their henchmen, all at the expense of the taxpayers’ money. How do they give their services back to the public? Some don’t come to parliament sessions, some sleep there, some are shouting (sometimes in filth) and fighting, behaving like hooligans, while others walk out during debates and discussions on crucial matters. Important Acts and Bills get meaninglessly delayed. Tender procedures are violated. Tax concessions are given to their supporters, while imposing/increasing taxes on the general public.
Then, there’s billions of rupees lost due to misappropriation of public funds by politicians of both past and present governments, and their stooges in high places in public enterprises. It’s all evident from the COPE reports, and the number of complaints made to the relevant institutions by various groups. However,the culprits are still at large.
But leaving all those aside, these hypocritical politicians shamelessly talk about the money spent to educate doctors as if it’s a huge loss to the country because of a trade union action. They cause billions of losses through corruption, fraud, extravagance and wasting, and then say the government doesn’t have money to increase the intake of students to state medical faculties, and promote private medical colleges (which itself is a topic that should be addressed separately).
This is the reality the public should come to terms with, without getting deceived by uncouth politicians and some politically motivated pundits who, obviously with prejudice and even jealousy, have to say something against doctors every time they appear on TV (as if they can’t sleep well at night if they don’t do so) and try to drive the public against us at every given opportunity; and they get plenty of opportunities from state media that hold one-sided, biased talk shows and discussions that has no room for opposing ideas and opinions. Hence, one should be careful not to get misled by these ‘advertisements’.
So, are doctors wasting public money spent on their education? It’s high time the people realize the truth, and understand who’s really giving them full value for their money, and who’s actually wasting them.
The writer is a Medical Officer attached to the Ratnapura Provincial General Hospital, and is a graduate of the Faculty of Medical Sciences, University of Sri Jayewardenepura.