‘All what we want is for the President to abide by his decision to abolish SAITM’ – GMOA

Training imparted to students not within SLMC norms



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By Steve A. Morrell


In an interview with The Sunday Island, GMOA Assistant Secretary, Dr. Naveen D. Soyza, responds to questions on the contentious SAITM issue.


Q: The GMOA is still continuing its struggle against SAITM, which is a long-drawn issue....


Yes, the SAITM issue has been long drawn out. SAITM was started in 2009, nine years ago. Since its inception, the GMOA has continued to protest. It was not an ad hoc protest. We did a thorough evaluation of the Institute and then lodged our protest because they did not have facilities for clinical training. They did not have a hospital at the time. The hospital was established later.


Based on our findings, the then Health Minister, who is now the President, appointed a five-member committee to look into the dispute that SAITM students lacked clinical training. The other matter was that the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), did not recognize SAITM as a medical degree awarding Institute. That was why we asked the public not to enroll their children to this institute.


Q: SAITM started in 2009, but it became an issue only in 2015. Why did you wait so long to lodge your protest? There was no problem at the time. Why protest now?


As long as the incumbent President was the then Health Minister, SAITM did not go into a crisis. There was no reason to consider action because he assured us he would resolve the problem. The appointed committee’s decision was that the students did not have clinical training.


It became a crisis on the Appeal Court decision for provisional registration of the students to do their internship, and it was only after that they could continue their studies. They lacked clinical training.


The SLMC has not recognized SAITM as a medical degree awarding Institute. Neither has the Health Ministry.


Q: SAITM did not develop into a crisis when the Rajapaksa government was in power. How come it became an issue only after the then government was defeated?


It was not the government, but the attitude of the then Health Minister towards SAITM. It was not a crisis then because the Institute was not recognized. We did protest to the government at that time also.


Q: What was the response?


It was not a stand-alone Institute. They said it was affiliated to the Mirzhnynovgorod Institute in Russia and it would exist as an offshore affiliate of the Institute. But after further inquiry, it was revealed by the Institute and the Russian Embassy here that there was no such agreement. That was a false claim.


Q:When did this come out?


At the very inception of SAITM.


Q: In the future, if there are other medical degree awarding seats of learning established in Sri Lanka, will you still be against it?


First, we have to sort out the SAITM issue. Whatever medical school that comes should be recognized by the Medical Council. This is how we have maintained our standards. These standards are being threatened now.


The Avissawella hospital is a base hospital, or a tier-5 hospital in government medical care which cannot clinically train anybody. We led a big procession from Avissawella to Colombo in protest against training of SAITM students in that hospital. Our members refused to train these students.


Q: The Avissawella hospital is also a government health facility. How was it that the government permitted these students to be trained there?


A former Director-General of Health Services issued a letter to allow such training. He has now retired. In consequence, the Health Ministry issued a circular that only those from recognized medical schools could be trained in these hospitals. SAITM did not come under the direction of that circular.


There was a court case by SAITM for contempt of court when the students were not trained at Avissawella. We wanted to be an observer at the legal proceedings. The Health Ministry and SAITM came to an out of court settlement to provide such hospitals for training.


Q: That was very clear?


Yes, that was clear. That was when we had to start our struggle again.


Q: Doctors are intelligent people. To make a point, could you not talk and discuss these issues? Why do you need get on to the streets to protest?


The crisis came after the Appeal Court case. Our point was that we protested on the streets to convey the message that the public should not be exposed to medical students from an institute that is not recognized in this country.


Q: The people are critical of the actions of government doctors....


No, that is not correct.


Q: Of course that is the correct position. They are blaming doctors for the hardships they have to undergo when strikes are launched.


They have realized the value of having standards. Let me repeat, we have maintained our standards.


Q: Why did you not take recourse to the law to find a solution?


Our intervention to the Appeal Court was rejected. We championed the SAITM issue in the media, but the government was not listening. That was why we had to take to the streets. Although, such action is undignified, we did not want the patients to suffer.


Q: Why don’t you talk to the President?


We have spoken to the President many times. This is a question of rights of the public of this country — patients who come to our hospitals. To create the maximum impact, we had to take to the streets. The result was that SAITM students would need further training to be registered as doctors.


Q: What more do you want?


The President took a decision last October to abolish SAITM, and to provide a reasonable solution to the students already there. We are not against that. Their rights should be looked into. We believe they are victims of this venture.


Q: SAITM students have done better than their colleagues in Colombo?


That was according to their standards which are most definitely questionable.


Q: There are no problems with other professional qualifications, be they private or otherwise. Law, accountancy, engineering etc.


They are also subject to official recognition, else they cannot practice their profession. This is the basis of our protest. We insist on standards. In the case of SAITM students, we have no objection to them being correctly trained and consequently exposed to regular professional training subject to SLMC standards.


What we want is for the President to abide by his decision to abolish SAITM because the training imparted to the students are not within the norms of the SLMC.


Q: What about Cambridge, Oxford or Monash, for example. They are all private institutions. In that context in the medical profession, would you accept such trained doctors?


In those countries, all students who pass out as doctors have to abide by their official rules or institutional official recognition. Otherwise, they cannot practice.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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