The doctors were at it again last Wednesday when the members of the Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) launched yet another 24-hour token strike, which according to media reports, had crippled the healthcare services in hospitals countrywide.
Once again these doctors held to ransom the patients, mainly comprising the low-income groups and those even worst off, to secure personal benefits from the Government. The poor are the ones who mainly come to government hospitals seeking healthcare services and they are the ones who suffer the most each time the doctors stop work over some grouse or the other they might have with the government. It is no secret that the doctors are among the educated class in Sri Lanka and having sworn to uphold the Hippocratic Oath should be conscious of their duties and responsibilities towards their patients.
It appears that the yard stick used by government doctors or the GMOA to gauge the success of their 24-hour countrywide strike action or work stoppage is the degree of misery, agony and inconvenience inflicted on helpless patients, who queue up at government hospitals from the break of dawn seeking treatment for and relief from their ailments, having to return home, most of them in remote villages, disappointed, dejected and depressed, often getting back long after dusk with little or no money to afford another trip to hospital.
How could anybody, leave alone the GMOA and its learned members, in their right minds measure the success of their regular and senseless trade union action by how much the people are made to suffer by using them as whipping posts.
At this point we must also emphasise the fact that we do not hold a brief for the Government in as much as we do not hold a brief for the doctors but without any hesitation we consider it our privilege to hold a brief for the patients, most of whom are among the voiceless and the marginalized and consider it our duty to speak up for them wherever and whenever possible.
Having said that we also do not grudge the right of doctors to fight for higher salaries and other benefits but that they should not do so at the expense of poor patients, who are made to suffer for no fault of theirs.
Meanwhile, GMOA Secretary Dr. Haritha Aluthge said the incumbent government had violated the National Salaries Policy by increasing the salaries of the judicial and legal sectors while neglecting several other sectors including the health sector and Colombo National Hospital (CNH) Director Dr. W.K. Wickramasinghe said patients attending OPDs, clinics and cardiothoracic units were the most affected from the token strike.
According to media reports the patients seeking healthcare services were unaware of the ongoing token strike and had to turn back extremely critical and angry over the trade union action by doctors, now becoming a near regular feature. The question these frustrated patients ask and the question we ask as well is why the doctors make the innocent patients suffer by resorting to such unbecoming tactics to obtain higher salaries and other perks and privileges even though it is no secret that these patients have no stake whatsoever in the doctors’ tussle with the government.
Some of the patients the Daily Mirror spoke to had described the token strike by the doctors as ‘treacherous, inhumane, unethical and cruel’ and which by no means could be justified.
The doctors, who pass out of the free education system, which this country can ill-afford, end up among the well-paid if not highly paid public servants enjoying several benefits like tax-free vehicle permits and the opportunity to engage in private practice earning lakhs of rupees.
At this point we must also underscore the fact that the poor patients who are sandwiched between the doctors and the government would have also indirectly contributed to the doctors’ free education whenever they purchased a little sugar, a little wheat flour or a little dhal from their village boutiques.
Be that as it may the government too should act proactively in resolving this contentious issue without vacillating or procrastinating and at the risk of repeating ourselves wish to say that whatever the causes or reasons maybe for the agitation campaign there is nothing so important as to justify the GMOA resorting to trade union action and hurting those who seek healing at government healthcare centres because the poor lack the resources to access private sector healthcare facilities unlike those who could afford to do so.