The Chief incumbent of the Ruvanveliseya the Ven Eethalwetunuwewe Gnanathilake Thera has asked doctors planning to leave the country not to do so at least until replacements are available to fill in the breach. The Ven Thera made this observation to a GMOA delegation representing doctors from the Anuradhapura District who met the Thera in their ongoing campaign to inform the Maha Sangha about the crisis that has beset the country’s health sector. The Ven Thera said the specialist doctors who are entrusted with the noble task of saving the lives of people were leaving the country in large numbers. The absence of substitutes to replace doctors in the Government hospitals has caused tremendous hardships to the patients. The attention of the Health Minster should be focused to prevent the mass exodus of doctors from the country.
At least this plea from a prominent member of the Maha Sangha, it is hoped, would persuade the doctors who are planning to leave to re-think their decision for no other reason than healing the sick is among the noblest tasks espoused by the Enlightened One. The doctors set to leave the country should think of the consequences of their actions on a poor country such as ours where the majority of the folk are living in abject poverty. By going overseas they will in essence be rendering their service to rich countries and people who are much better off than their counterparts in Sri Lanka. This, though, at least, should serve to stir the conscience of those our doctors who plan to abandon their Motherland which nurtured and made them what they are.
The proposal by Ven Thera should also give fruit for thought to the Health authorities who should take immediate measures even by introducing laws to prohibit doctors leaving the country until replacements are made available. After all, the medical profession unlike any other job is always in demand anywhere in the world. The doctors don’t have to wait for vacancies to occur in foreign countries to seize on the opportunity since doctors could find ready accommodation in any country of their choice at any time due to the very nature of their profession. Hence, they can afford to bide their time and leave for overseas appointments at a time of their choice. Is it then asking for too much from our doctors to stay back until such time the replacements are found? This is the least they could do on behalf of the Sri Lankan public who funded their entire education by undergoing immense burdens, to make them prominent and respected members of society.
However, in order to produce the necessary replacements there should be a well-thought-out programme. In short, what is needed is an acceleration of the creation of doctors in the country to take over when seniors opt to seek greener pastures. Steps should also, in the meantime, taken to ensure the would be replacements too would not be in a mighty hurry to follow suit. For this, an iron-clad undertaking should be obtained making them serve the country at least for a minimum period so that when it is time to leave the next batch of replacements will be ready to take over.
According to Deputy Director General Medical Services Dr G. Wijesuriya, it takes five years of training to produce a specialist doctor and the shortage of doctors could be overcome to a certain extent with the increase in the number of trainees.
Earlier, President Ranil Wickremesinghe too came out with a solution that would at least partly address the problem when he proposed for an increase in the intake of students to Medical College. The President also has decided to set up the first non-government Medical Faculty in the country with a view to producing more doctors as yet another answer to the mass migration of medical professionals. The move by the President to provide an opportunity for university students in the Arts streams to be trained in allied fields in the medical profession too is a sound step that to a certain degree may help ease the crisis.
In fact, private Medical Colleges ought to have been set up at the very outset. Had this been the case we would not have been facing the present crisis brought about by the departure of local doctors from our shores.
As already mentioned, all possible avenues should be explored to combat the present crisis. Making doctors remain in the country until replacements are found is only one of the means of tackling the problem.
In this context, the Minister should at least strive to keep back the remaining doctors by offering them an acceptable solution to their grievances till the replacements are found. Here too there is a problem since according to the GMOA the number of interns under training too has dropped drastically. Hence, replacements, if ever, will take a long time in coming and it will be foolhardy to think that the doctors planning to migrate are going to remain indefinitely for replacements.
In the meantime, the Government should not lose time in tackling the problem of the dwindling number of doctors in the country who, no doubt, are increasingly being compelled to seek greener pastures due to the present economic crisis. If the situation worsens, not only doctors but also other professionals too are bound to follow suit.