News Features  


While hospitals close for lack of medical men

Foreign qualified local doctors forced to languish

By Carol Aloysius
Despite there being a huge glut of qualified medical personnel currently available in the country, as many as 800 rural hospitals are being closed down for lack of doctors to man them. Meanwhile over 850 foreign qualified local doctors are still waiting in hope that they will be given the licenses to practice which have eluded them for several years since their graduation and return to their homeland. A Supreme Court Case is now pending with regards to this The Nation reliably learns.

“If you compare Sri Lanka with most countries in the world, we probably have the least number of doctors per population ratio – 1 doctor per 1,850 population outside Colombo. With this scarcity of doctors, there is also the problem of mal distribution with most of the provincial hospitals having no doctors while there is an excess of doctors in the Colombo hospitals. Recently the Health Minister has gone on record that as many as 800 rural hospitals have to be closed down due to lack of doctors. The irony is that we already have the medical personnel to man these hospitals, but they are not being given their appointments for various reasons,” Dr Lalith Chandradasa, a former Secretary, GMOA told The Nation in an exclusive interview, Thursday.

The present Secretary of the GMOA, Dr Anuruddha Padeniya was not available for comment.
Speaking out frankly and emphasising that he was voicing his own personal views on the sad plight on of the 850 foreign qualified doctors awaiting appointments, Dr Chandradasa said, “These doctors have had no jobs, no income and no status since their return to the country after qualifying abroad, for no fault of their own. It is little wonder that many of them are now suffering from psychological illnesses caused by stress and uncertainty and worry”.

He said that they were not being accommodated in the system because according to the law, they have to sit a licensing exam or registration exam – Act E 16 or ERPM (Exam to Register to Practice Medicine). All those who practice medicine in this country has to get the registration of the local Medical Council (i.e. the SLMC) A local graduate passing out from the local university gets this registration automatically because they are from the local universities. But not so the foreign qualified medical graduate who has to sit the licensing exam. Naturally this has created a feeling among the foreign qualified doctors that the SLMC is discriminating against them. So much so that 54 of them went to the Supreme Court in 2009. The Court then ordered that the University Grants Commission (UGC) conducts the exam thereafter, and for the foreign qualified graduates to sit the same Multiple Choice question paper given to the local graduates.

“Can you guess what happened then?”, he asked. “The pass rate which was 30-35% for the foreign qualified graduates, suddenly and for no plausible reason plummeted to between 6-9%! You don’t need an academic to tell you that when the pass mark is less than 10 percent the fault is with the examination – and not the candidate. The result was that two foreign qualified graduates went to the Supreme Court and asked that the exam be handed back to the SLMC. The case is still on.”
Meanwhile, he opines, the foreign qualified grads have come to know that although the Multiple Choice question paper is a common paper for both the local graduates and for them, the pass mark for the local graduates is at least 20 % less than for them i.e. 30% for the local graduates and 50% for the foreign qualified grads.
The Court has given instructions for both parties to come to a settlement and they are now working towards that”, he added.

Dr. Chandradasa also charges the SLMC of having double standards as is evident in its relaxed rules with regard to giving licenses to the Indian doctors. His explanation for this ‘dichotomy’, he said is that the SLMC is not properly constituted. He cites the case of the present Registrar Dr Nonis who is 67 years old and over the retiring age of a government servant. “The Medical Council is a statutory body coming under the Ministry of Health and there is a recent circular saying no government servant can be in government service unless approved by the Cabinet. The Health Ministry has denied sending a Cabinet paper extending the services of this officer, which means that Dr Nonis’s appointment at present is illegal.”
He also charged that that the GMOA was dictated to by the SLMC by virtue of its ‘muscle power’ and urged that the Health Minister reconstitutes the SLMC to make it a more transparent body better able to serve the country.