Health Minister Rajitha Senaratne last week said that his ministry would ban patients undergoing treatment at State hospitals from obtaining blood test reports from private labs from December and the Government would provide blood testing equipment which cost Rs. 15 million each with lab services. He had said this at a discussion held at his Ministry.In a point of view of the patients seeking treatment at State hospitals and generally that of the free health care, which Sri Lanka boasts of, this is a very good move, if in fact implemented.
With the fast spreading private health care culture, among the fast expanding middle class, the private hospitals are gaining more and more importance, attracting even the lower strata of that class towards private medical care, while leaving the State hospitals more and more only to the poor. On the other hand the hassles in State hospitals that end up in humiliation also push the affordable people to seek medical care at private hospitals. Hence, the move suggested by the Minister, if implemented, would be a great relief to the marginalised groups.
However, the Government does not need to ban patients from getting the blood tests done at private institutions as they do not voluntarily choose to do so. It is the authorities of the State hospitals, who compel the patients to go to private laboratories, sometimes with a seeming understanding with those laboratories.
However, practicability of the Government’s declared move is in doubt. Last year the Health Ministry announced a broader move, where the Health Ministry was to ban the doctors attached to the State hospitals from prescribing not only blood tests but any medical test at private hospitals. According to our sister paper the Sunday Times of June 14, 2015 Health Ministry Secretary Dr. D.M.R.B. Dissanayake had told that doctors at the State hospitals would be prohibited from prescribing medical tests to be done at private hospitals and that the Ministry had resorted to this move to curb malpractices that were rampant in State hospitals, where patients seeking Government health care were often advised to go to private laboratories for medical tests.
He had stated that Director General of Health Services Dr. Palitha Mahipala had been instructed to issue the relevant circular in the same week, which never saw the light of the day. It is a well known fact that the health care has already been partially privatised with the help of many elements in the sector, in spite of the doctors and the medical students occasionally agitating against the alleged moves to privatise the sector.
It is ironic to see that many private laboratories functioning in close vicinity of the National Hospital in Colombo, while the Government Medical Officers’ Association (GMOA) blames that the SAITM students are not trained in an adequately-equipped teaching hospital
Supporting the Sunday Times story, prescriptions for even simple tests are sometimes sent to private laboratories. Appointments for costly tests are sometimes given weeks apart, compelling the patients to get them done at private institutions. Patients are compelled to retain the services of private attendants,
who are roaming around the State hospitals unless they could find a relative or a friend to do the job, when being admitted to the State hospital. It is ironic to see that many private laboratories functioning in close vicinity of the National Hospital in Colombo, while the Government Medical Officers’
Association (GMOA) blames that the SAITM students are not trained in an adequately-equipped teaching hospital. We have not seen doctors or the medical students agitating for adequate facilities at the Government hospitals or higher student intake for State medical colleges. Hence, providing test facilities to the State hospitals would help reduce the practice of sending patients to private laboratories to some extent. But it alone would not solve the problem as the Ministry itself accuses of rampant malpractices in State hospitals in prescribing tests to be done at private institutions.