A rightful fight for education

SAITMBy Harsha Subhashana

As an administrative professional working for SAITM and even before joining SAITM, I have been observing the SAITM saga going on for the last five to six years. I was trying my best to find some logic behind the varying arguments against SAITM but utterly failed. The following points need consideration.

Is SAITM enrolling lower grade students for the medical degree?

SAITM enrolls only 75 students per batch out of approximately 500 applicants. Therefore even though the cut off mark for university entrance is 3Ss (for SAITM it is even higher, 2Cs & 1S), those who get selected to SAITM are with much better results than the minimum required. Even if it is with 3Ss, all A/L students with 3Ss are qualified for university entrance and they have the right to study what they like. It is just government universities cannot facilitate it due to resource limitations. Otherwise they are eligible to do medicine even in government universities.

Even though SAITM hardly recruit students with minimum qualifications, many of them get their degrees from the so called SLMC approved foreign universities and return to the country for practice.

SAITM has also enrolled many London A/L qualified students with 3A’s and they have no other choice as they cannot enter government universities.

Government sector teaching hospitals

Medicine is a profession and there is very a little relationship between A/L and medicine. So the same way, there is a very little relationship between how you perform at A/L and as a medical doctor.

Do SAITM students lack clinical exposure?

It is not easy to compare the government sector teaching hospitals and a private sector teaching hospital. In the government sector, there are patients in the bed, side of the bed and even on chairs. This is not the same in the private sector and there are standards when a private teaching hospital allows students to examine patients. As this is the same even in the developed world, there are different teaching techniques used in the private sector to provide necessary training to students.

But when SAITM wanted to use few government hospitals that are not used by government universities as their teaching hospitals, the pressure groups went against this. This shows their hypocritical nature. From one end, they argue on the quality of clinical exposure, from the other end they block SAITM students having access to government hospitals for clinical exposure.

Is it ethical to limit government hospitals to government medical students?

Whether they are private medical students or government medical students, they are citizens of Sri Lanka. Government hospitals are not maintained by government medical faculties but by the tax payers’ money. So whether they are government or private, they should have equal access to government hospitals.

As the parents of private medical students pay more taxes, they should have better access to government hospitals.

If government medical students say private medical students should not come to government hospitals, how about government qualified medical officers not coming to private hospitals but stick to government hospitals?

Pressure groups are on silly arguments such as “If a tuition class does not have a lab, should the government provide a lab?” If the policy is, free education to all, government should provide the free labs and free education to all. But if the government does not have funds to provide both labs and education free, if there is a set of students who can afford private education but not labs, what is the problem in government providing labs for them? It is win win for both parties.

Private teaching hospital

In fact SAITM needs a government hospital for subjects that cannot be taught only in the private sector such as Community Medicine and Judiciary Medicine. If not they have their own private teaching hospital which is the largest among the private hospitals in the country. Community medicine is a subject that needs exposure to a cross section of the society, so that cannot be learnt only by studding patients at a private hospital. Judiciary medicine is about postmortems etc. that is not legal to be practised in a private hospital environment.

Will nationalising SAITM be a solution to free education?

Shortage of free education is due to poverty. The solution to poverty is, not to nationalise private institutions. This was proven over and over again during communism. A simple e.g.: The worst issue in the world is not medical education but shortage of food. If nationalisation is the solution, the easy solution to food shortage should be nationalising all the food manufacturing organisations and giving it free!

Is free education a myth?

There is nothing call free education. It is an illusion. Someone is paying for any service we consume. Just because we do not pay for it that does not mean it falls from the sky. Private medical students pay for themselves and we all pay for government medical students’ education. That means private medical students in fact pay for government medical students’ education as well. So why cannot private medical students study what they want by paying their own money? Real free education is freedom for education. That is what a group of people is trying to block for another group of people.

How come only medical education cannot be offered private?

Medicine is another profession, just like engineering, architecture, finance, admin etc. Currently education opportunities for all the other professions are offered in the private sector and they are in fact equally competitive or sometimes better than what is offered in the government sector.

Another argument in this regard is, medical professionals deal with human lives, so their education needs to be perfect but others’ not! What about engineers then? Aren’t they dealing with human lives? If an aeronautical engineer makes a small mistake, it could be hundreds of people dying at once. What about civil engineers? If they make a mistake it could be thousands of people dying at once. Even if a bus driver makes a mistake, it could be many people dying and they all deal with human lives. If a doctor does a mistake, luckily it won’t be hundreds or thousands dying at once, it is mostly just one or two people and he/ she will lose his/ her licence. So the answer is not to keep education to government sector but to provide right education to what ever the profession.

Quality of healthcare

Are these pressure groups really fighting to give a better care to public?

We can understand this when we go to a government hospital. Not all but the majority is not even in the hospitals, but at their private practices. Moment they get out of government universities, their prime objective is not to serve public at government hospitals, but to earn money in the private sector. Even the little time they are in hospitals, they do not treat patients humanly. Rarely a doctor would have some sympathy towards patients’ queries. If a patient tries to talk to a doctor regarding his/ her illness, they would jump at him/ her, as if, it is the biggest crime he/ she has done.

If they are so worried about the quality of healthcare offered to public, there are bigger issues they should fight on, such as: mushrooming low quality nursing homes, labs and clinics, drug companies selling low quality drugs at very high prices, one-minute appointments of consultation at exorbitant rates and doctors unethical in their practice such as prescribing brands. How come they do not ask to nationalise private hospitals and give free healthcare to public? Healthcare is a more primary need to people than medical education. So it is more important to give free healthcare than free medical education.

Isn’t it funny that we still do not have a single private medical school but import medical education from countries such as Nepal, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Belarus and Ukraine?

Sri Lanka has an excellent track record of healthcare for a longer period thanks to government and private healthcare institutions. But we keep importing medical education from countries that are not even closer to us where healthcare standards are concerned. Isn’t it a shame for the whole country?

Sri Lanka Medical Council could find many private medical schools in those countries to accredit but it is a pity that there is not a single yet in Sri Lanka. If there is a private university in Sri Lanka, our students will not look for foreign universities and SLMC will have better access to monitor quality of their education.

Foreign medical education

The much needed foreign currency drain is due to foreign medical education. Due to the petty mindedness of pressure groups, a large number of students go to other countries for a long period of medical education. It affects foreign currency reserves used for their education abroad. If we have started private medical education sometime back, by now we will be attracting a huge number of medical students from abroad. Countries like USA, Australia, Russia and even India make big money out of selling education to the whole world.

By having a private med uni in Sri Lanka, the teaching hospital of the faculty will serve the locals at a more affordable price than the other private hospitals as it is funded by the medical students’ funds. This is how Dr Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital the teaching hospital of SAITM is providing superior services at an affordable price. This is a more visible benefit to the public of Sri Lanka than the benefit of foreign currency saving. All this time this benefit has been enjoying by the citizens of some other country as our students were funding med unis of other countries.

Is government qualification that great?

If government qualification is that great, how could they commit mistakes such as amputating the wrong limb? Why do patients die owing to negligence of the medical practitioners?

Is education a commodity?

Education is a major commodity in the open economy. Countries such as Australia, USA and UK are in the forefront of this and education is already making a major contribution to their economy.

The world is going forward by making changes to their cultures, geographies, economies and many other factors to meet the new challenges in the 21st century. In the current contest, Sri Lanka is an insignificant in the world’s arena. By lagging behind holding on to the outdated principals in the communist world, we are further becoming insignificant.

We are already late but not too late to change and update ourselves for the competition. But it is a call of the day and now or never!

5 COMMENTS

  1. I agree with all the facts presented. UGC representatives even sat on selection interview board for SAITM, yet GMOA and IUSF spread lies about them to the public and trying to involve bhikkus too. One lie is that almost all bought 1st class MBBS. Its the same small no. of teachers and examiners, whether state or private. No other choice unless import. The real patient treatment starts at internship, under strict consultant supervision in approved govt. hospitals for both state and private. This continues further under the consultant responsibility until they are confident. No chance to kill patients like the GMOA strikers do but falsely claim for others
    Good consultants are busy and don’t jealously watch others practice. Its these TU leaders without practice, and insecure, who have time to manipulate, spy on and hinder others
    SLMC should have had integrity and been above board, but its deeply infiltrated politically. Its leader tasted power of destroying private NCMC and grabbing credit, but has no revelation of the billions required to build and maintain NFTHospital. Sees as profit. Sad

  2. Is the Kidney Scandal swept under the carpet under the cloud of SAITM, VAT and the Shadow Cabinet issues? What happened to the new 5 member committee by the
    Director General of Health Services Dr. Palitha Mahipala to investigate into alleged kidney transplant racket involving Sri Lanka doctors is ONLY and “EYE WASH”, by the Hon. Minister of Health? What happened to the REPORT of the two-member team from the Directorate of Private Health Sector Development comprising its Director Dr. Kanthi Ariyaratne and Deputy Director Dr. A.I. Jagoda that probed this same issue in April 2014. Is Dr. Palitha Mahipala as “OPERATOR”? In a major revelation on the controversy over the alleged kidney transplant racket, Senior Professor of Medicine, University of Colombo, Prof. Rezvi Sheriff is reported to have said in April 2014 that local nephrologists have been talking to Indian agents, who were offering to supply kidneys for transplant operations conducted in Sri Lanka. Prof. Sheriff, who is also the Founder Chairman of the Western Infirmary acknowledged that Indians purportedly supply kidneys and were doing so in Sri Lanka and that it was still going on. Prof. Rezvi Sheriff is also a member of the Medical Council of Sri Lanka appointed by the Minister of Health. Professor. Rezvi Sheriff was also named in the UPFA National list under the name – Professor H.R.S. Mohamed. The total amount of money that have been changing hands for the benefit of these private hospitals and Doctors/Surgeons/ nephrologists is estimated in the region of Rs. 3200,000,000/= to Rs. 4000,000,000/= as it is suspected that around 800 odd transplants have taken place since 1985. In the recent few months, 60 odd kidney transplants have taken place under the RACKET busted by the The Nalgonda police Investigators in INDIA. The staggering amount of money transacted for the benefit of the accused hospitals and doctors is: Rs. 240,000,000/= to Rs. 300,000,000/=. The persons from whom these kidneys have been deceptively removed and allowed to be unlawfully sold to locals and foreigners assisted by government Ministry of Health officials and the Sri Lanka Medical Council Members is only a few thousand rupees. The Indian police has arrested the head of the Kidney Transplant Department along with many other Doctors at APPOLO Hospital recently for a similar scandal, but NOT reported in our media. Sri Lanka should NOT allow this scandal to be forgotten or swept under the carpet.
    Sri Lanka and the President has to punish these human vultures in the appearance of Doctors and Health Ministry Officials and put a STOP to this human suffering as Sri Lanka eradicated LTTE TERRORISM.
    Noor Nizam. Peace and Political Activist and Political Communication Researcher and SLFP Stalwart.

  3. Entry requirements to be a western medical student in government or private medical school must be equal to the entry criteria used by UK USA because western medicine introduced to SriLanka by those people. So find out what are requirement?

    Clearly laws in SriLanka must be tightened to uplift the health system. Doctors in government or private sector who malpractice and medical negligence e.g. amputation of wrong leg should be charged. Malpractice of current doctors is not a reason to establish private medival colleges. Instead tighten the laws.

    I like to see what will happen if government doctors stop private practice in private hospitals or their own centers. Two results. Firstly significant number of doctors left the government job as private practise is more profitable when compared income with the number of consultations. Secondly doctors try to leave the country when possible. Anyway laws should be tightened if a government doctor practices in a private hospital.

    There should be one or two SLMC approved medical schools in SriLanka under regular SLMC monitoring for London AL students or any other student with higher marks in AL ( Local AL student with spending ability may be preferred private college though selected for government college ) however entry requirement should be equal to UK criteria as I mentioned earlier.

    Most important thing is the Standars of Western Medicine. It cannot be decided by India or Nepal or China or Russia etc where health systems are even lower than SriLanka in world rankings. It should be like in UK USA Cuba Europe Singapore Australia like countries where health systems are well ahead.

  4. Nice Article on the SAITM. It is high time government says, enough is enough to GMOA and allow the continuation of SAITM. I will guarantee there will be many more parties including Foreign parties who are eagerly awaiting all clear signal is given , so that they will establish few more medical faculties. We should be able to sell Sri Lanka as a Hub for Medical Education in this region and developing Sri Lanka as a Centre for Medical Tourism. I will not go in to much details but would like to point out the following with regard to points raised by GMOA and their cronies.

    1. Students with low qualifications are enrolled as Students : Currently or up to recently minimum entrance qualifications to enter a university is 3 Simple Passes. SAITM cannot enroll students according to their whims and fancies but UGC need to screen and approve the list of Students who can be enrolled at SAITM. So whether you have Money or not , unless students are approved by the UGC they cannot be enrolled at the SAITM.

    2. Only Students with Money can be enrolled : Yes, that is what you call Private Education. Even from Grade 01 upwards parents with means will spend their money on Private tuition. The level of Tuition will solely depend on the financial capability of the parents. For example if Parents can afford , they will not send their child to a tuition class, but will get down a tutor to their home. A parent with lower financial capability will send their kid to a Group class since the monthly fees are lower. So yes, Money is required and society is not equal to all. That is the reality.

    3. Students who will graduate will be of low quality : This is the bogey GMOA will try to sell. As harsha said if that is so, how can a state educated doctor amputate the wrong leg or hand. If this is an issue , yes it is a critical issue which the government should address. One simple solution should be , government should introduce a common MCQ & Viva to all Graduated medical students before they are given the license to practice. If the Government can conduct a common exam at O/L and A/L for thousands of students on the same day , same time , it will be simple thing to have a common MCQ to State Universities, Private Universities & Foreign graduates. Those who pass the MCQ can be evaluated by a Specialist panel with viva test. This will ensure all graduates are on equal footing.

    We all speak about our high quality level of education whether at OL or AL., and would make fun of US or other Western education system saying people who fail at our AL can easily pass out of their University. In any thing what we should look at is , END RESULT or END PRODUCT. Though we speak so highly about our education system, where are we . Can we compare our countries development with the development achieved by the Western Countries. While they are sending probes to Jupiter , we cannot even manufacturer a proper car let alone a rocket. That speaks highly about our education system.

  5. Nationalisation and Privatisation of services that are essential for society should be guided by the principle of service to the people. As a citizen of this country and as a tax payer I have witnessed and experienced the agony many go through when a loved one falls ill and medical attention is sought.

    As young children we never went to a private hospital for medical care. The government hospitals and doctors treated and cared for their patients with dedication and commitment. Why have so many private medical institutions cropped up? Why do such a large number of patients go to private hospitals, where very often it’s doctors who are employed in the government sector who practice in these private hospitals too?

    We rarely heard of doctors going on strikes when we were children. What is the issue at stake here? Is it that these young people who will graduate from SAITM will put to shame the many doctors in the national system who lack compassion and dedication. Do these doctors who do private practice in private hospitals ever go on strike? Will the ethical standards of SAITM be a challenge? If the doctors coming under the General Medical Council can do private practice what is the logic behind their fight against a private teaching hospital?
    As Harsha Subhashana very clearly and logically explains if there are private educational institutes that cater to the various needs of our society like education, engineering and business why not the medical sector? If this sector is held so holy and sacred then act likewise: be of service to the people, do not hold poor patients as ransom to drive your personal and political agendas, be caring and compassionate. Hold fast to your oath of service and good practice. Earn the love and respect of the people you are supposed to care for. Listen to the voices of these young people who seek to develop professionally so that they too can serve the community.
    Till such time the government needs to look at measures to provide quality medical services to the various sectors of our society. If this private hospital offers a quality service to its patrons , members of our society who ever they are, at an affordable price then I think the government is serving the people by providing SAITM with the facilities needed for it students to do their medical practice so that they have hands on experience of the medical ailments of a good cross section of the people of our country.

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