GMOA Rift Widens:
NHSL docs set to establish branch union

Some warned of a ‘pool of blood’ if rebels went ahead with ‘election process’


A group of ‘rebel’ doctors are going ahead with their plans to set up a branch union at the NHSL in spite of strong opposition from the now suspended executive committee of the GMOA,. On behalf of those supportive of the move, a group of five top consultants briefed the media on the situation in the wake of ‘canteen brawl’ earlier on Wednesday. From (L to R) Dr. Marie Fernando, Dr. Vajira Senaratne, Dr. R. P. Dayasena (President of Consultants Forum), Dr. Ramya Amarasena, Dr. Neville Perera and Dr. Lalith Perera. (Pic by Ranjith Wimalasiri)

by Shamindra Ferdinando and Dilanthi Jayamanne

Director of National Hospital of Sri Lanka (NHSL) Dr. Anil Jasinghe yesterday said that a group of over 30 consultants had met at the auditorium of the Neuro-Trauma Unit (NTU) consequent to the disruption of their meeting at the canteen of the doctors’ quarters earlier in the day.

Dr. Jasinghe said that he had allowed the consultants to use the NTU auditorium after having consulted the Director General of Health Services (DGHS) Dr. Palitha Maheepala. "In fact, Deputy Directors of the NHSL, too, were present when consultants met me. I consulted DGHS over the phone as regards the consultants’ request for a place to meet."

Had the consultants been allowed to go ahead with their lunch-hour meeting at the canteen nothing would have happened, Dr. Jasinghe told The Island.

The top NHSL administrator asserted that nothing would have caused more damage to their reputation than Wednesday’s brawl at the hospital premises. Asked whether he had sided with the consultants for personal gain, Dr. Jasinghe said that his sole intention was to prevent untoward incidents involving doctors. The media coverage of Wednesday’s incidents was nothing but humiliating and embarrassing to the entire health sector, a disappointed Dr. Jasinghe said.

Dr. Jasinghe was responding to the GMOA accusations that he had violated the Constitution of the Association by allowing consultants to have a meeting at NTU during working hours.

Dr. Chandika Epitakaduwa, in a statement issued on behalf of the GMOA, warned that the Central Committee of his outfit would push for disciplinary action against the rebel group as well as those who had assisted them. The GMOA held Dr. Jasinghe responsible for the situation. Dr. Epitakaduwa’s position was endorsed by a group of four doctors, namely Prasad Ranaweera, Vipula Indralal, Harith Aluthge and Amila Maduragoda.

Dr. Jasinghe insisted that no one had the right to cause chaos at a meeting convened by another party under any circumstances. Of course, those wanting to thwart consultants’ meeting should have sought intervention of the court or perhaps complained to the police, the NHSL Director said. He said the GMOA as well as consultants would take tangible measures to defuse the crisis and settle whatever their differences amicably.

Several doctors including some top specialists who had been present at the canteen during what they described as an unprecedented raid by a section of the GMOA told The Island that they had tried to establish a branch union at the NHSL. Although the rival factions had unanimously accepted Senior Consultant Surgeon Dr. B. G. N. Ratnasena as the President of the branch union, there was disagreement on the election of other office bearers. Those present at that meeting raised their hands to reject a proposal to elect the remaining office bearers, they said. Much to the surprise of those who had been engaged in strong arm tactics to suppress dissenting voice, too, had raised their hands and favoured a secret ballot, they said.

Responding to a query, medical specialists said that the disrupted meeting had been summoned to decide on a date to elect office bearers. Having realised the possibility of an attempt to sabotage it, the consultants had requested Dr. Jasinghe to provide them an opportunity to meet at a safe and secure place. However, Dr. Jasinghe had turned down the plea as he didn’t want to antagonise the other party, a senior doctor alleged, acknowledging the NHSL chief plight. "We didn’t realise Dr. Jasinghe’s predicament until the raid on the canteen. As the canteen was used by even those based at nearby government medical facilities, we weren’t in a position to restrict entry of others. All of a sudden, a group of persons led by some prominent members descended on us. Although we expected trouble, we never believed they brazenly targeted Dr. Ratnasena, one of the five Trustees of the GMOA. A bottle of sauce was thrown at us, while some exchanged blows."

Earlier in the day, the same group had been seen at the entrance to the premises threatening those coming for the meeting, they said. Responding to a query, some of those who had witnessed the ugly seen at the country’s premier hospital claimed that the group had gone to the extent of warning Dr. Jasinghe that there would be a pool of blood if the dissidents were allowed to convene a meeting.

Although the consultants had to vacate the canteen under duress, they regrouped again and rushed in to Dr. Jasinghe’s office where angry specialists demanded that they be given an opportunity to meet within the premises at a safe place. "Of course, the administration was reluctant to grant out wish for obvious reasons. But, due to consultants standing their ground, the administration finally agreed to allow us to convene at the auditorium of the neuro-trauma unit."

Those who knew the police top brass had sought their assistance to thwart a possible second attempt to sabotage the meeting, a senior consultant said. Having alerted IGP N.K. Illangakoon to the situation, those eligible to participate at the meeting had waited until the police allowed them entry into the auditorium. The police had prevented outsiders from entering the auditorium, though some expressed concern over the police presence there, consultants said. Having discussed the situation, the participants agreed to elect the remaining office bearers within two to three weeks, they said, adding that though a section of the media was present at a hurriedly summoned briefing at the premises absolutely no one bothered to give adequate coverage to what the consultants had to say. "We don’t want to fight the media, but we have no alternative but to express our serious concern over the failure on the part of both print and electronic media to report what is going on. We are really disappointed at the shoddy way important issues are handled," a senior doctor said. He quoted a colleague as having said during Wednesday’s brawl that it was his darkest day in his medical career and regretted what was going on.

Appreciating the police for promptly moving in, the senior doctors said that the police would have to ensure a peaceful environment when the election of office bearers took place in mid August.

Responding to a query by The Island, well informed sources said that the GMOA’s five Trustees had been sharply divided over the functioning of the trade union in view of the Colombo District Court restraining order on the Executive Committee of the association. Two of the Trustees including Dr. Ratnasena backed the bid to establish Colombo branch with others dissenting. Those supportive of the setting up of the branch had given an affidavit to court distancing themselves from any transaction carried out by their colleagues on behalf of board of trustees.

Speculation is rife that those pushing for reforms in one of the most powerful trade unions in then country may seek court intervention to restrain those now running the association. Doctors asserted that the ideal situation would have been the appointment of an interim committee by the Trustees to pave the way for election of office bearers to the mother union. Instead, a spate of controversial decisions had been taken by an outfit calling itself the General Committee, though it couldn’t function owing to the court order binding on the Executive Committeee including the Secretary of the association.

The General Committee had suspended seven respected medical professionals from the association on some frivolous and, therefore, there was a need to reexamine the issue and if necessary move the matter before the court, a group of medical consultants told The Island.

An irate doctor said that Wednesday’s ‘madness’ had, in a way, helped those wanting to reform the GMOA. Doctors who had been somewhat reluctant to back the reformists were supportive of their efforts now, he claimed.


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