Spare the patients | Daily News

Spare the patients

The GMOA has bared its fangs again. Its members are all set to down their stethoscopes on Friday if the government fails to meet 10 demands put forward by the government doctors. One of the demands relates to the school admission for 89 children of GMOA members. Another relates to failure by the authorities to increase the Disturbance, Availability and Transport (DAT) allowance paid to doctors while yet another reason for the planned strike action is the new amendment to the Inland Revenue Act that seeks to increase the taxes on doctors and other professionals. The piece de resistance however is the demand by the doctors that the government scraps the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore as this would gravely impact on the local job market.

From a casual observation of some of the demands, it is clear that none of these are centered on patients’ welfare. This, from the very members of the GMOA who claimed that the chief reason for their agitation against SAITM was the concern for the patients, who, according to the good doctors, ran the risk of being treated by unqualified personnel passing out from SAITM which adopted below par recruiting standards. The demand for the withdrawal of the amendment to the Inland Revenue Act, which allegedly seeks to levy higher taxes on doctors and other professionals, too, fall into this category.

It is all too well known that most of the GMOA big guns are into lucrative private practice, and thus deserve to be taxed, like all other professionals, if for no other reason than to offset the burden on the ordinary public who are strangulated by disproportionate indirect taxes, an anomaly which the Finance Minister has now rectified, by getting the high-end earners to cough up more of their earnings. After all, weren't not this disproportionate indirect taxes on the public that paid for the free education of the members of the GMOA?

One could be inclined to view sympathetically the demand of the government doctors for drawing up a proper policy with regard to the admission of their children to government schools. This is on the basis that government doctors are subject to transfers and this would entail a disruption of the education of their offspring. However, there are practical problems that make this demand untenable. The GMOA has a membership of 18,000 doctors and it is next to impossible to accommodate all their children in government schools even if half this number are yet bachelors. Besides, this could also open the floodgates for other professionals to demand the same facility.

To even a casual observer, it is plain that the GMOA is launched on a political agenda and in a not so subtle way either. The GMOA President, no less, was seen some time ago occupying the front row at a Eliya gathering which was addressed by Gotabhaya Rajapaksa. The selfsame GMOA President was also seen addressing a trade union agitation opposite the Fort Railway Station where he railed against two government ministers and also attacked the courts, for which a contempt case is pending against him.

The demand for the abolishing of the FTA with Singapore, no doubt, is part of this political project. This is more so since the matter has already been thrashed out in parliament and Minister Malik Samarawickrema debunking all the doomsday theories, with telling effect. Earlier, the government doctors raised similar fears over the arrival of the Indian ambulance service and even threatened not to treat patients transported in these ambulances. The Indian ambulance service has today become extremely popular with the public and has spread its wings far and wide in the country. The doctors too have apparently accepted this and there are no reports of any doctor turning away any patient ferried in these ambulances.

The government is not obliged to discuss its trade policies with trade unions who are mere laymen. This description fits the bill even where the doctors are concerned. They are medical professionals and not economists. The GMOA ought not to meddle in matters that are beyond their remit. The government, certainly, will not be in a position to meet all 10 demands put forward by the doctors, before next Friday. The medicos complain that their letter to the President setting out their demands has not received a response.

It appears that the poor patients are in for yet another ordeal, come Friday. The pro-Rajapaksa TV channels, certainly, must be gearing up to bring to their audiences footage of empty, forlorn government hospitals and patients in different poses of agony, with a view to highlight the inefficiency of the government and voice cuts uncomplimentary of the rulers.

Other trade unions too are flexing their muscles, with a 48 hour Railway strike set to commence from midnight yesterday. The tempo is bound to rise, leading up to the Joint Opposition's planned invasion of the Colombo City on September 05.

The government must devise measures to ensure that patients are spared hardship on Friday, when the doctors’ strike gets underway. No government should allow itself to be held to ransom, be it by doctors or the ordinary riffraff. That should be the bottom line. 


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