Exploitation of patients at Sri J’pura Hospital should stop –Trade Union tells Health Minister

Shocking disclosure: Surgeon charges Rs. 45,000 rupees from a patient for a colonoscopy



In a startling disclosure, a key trade union at the Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital (SJGH) — which has hit the headlines over allegations of widespread corruption, waste, mismanagement and financial irregularities – told Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena last week how a surgeon had charged 45,000 rupees from a patient for a colonoscopy when this simple procedure cost only 12,500 rupees in any leading private medical facility.

Underscoring the sheer exploitation of patients at this semi-government hospital – a point the All Ceylon Health Services Union (ACHSU) has repeatedly attempted to drive home, its Secretary Chandana Jayalath asserted that this same consultant had charged 50,000 rupees the following day for a hemorrhoids procedure, which can be performed for 15,000 rupees elsewhere.

The Minister visited the Sri Jayewardenepura General Hospital last Thursday where he met with the new Chairman and Board of Directors and medical consultants. Later, he was ushered to the precincts of the canteen where a stage had been put up for a meeting.

Representing the ACHSU, Jayalath called upon the Minister to probe the spate of allegations against the SJGH, which had been placed ninth amongst 26 ‘corrupt institutions’ by the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE).

He asserted there are medical consultants at SJGH who earned an incredible three million rupees per month and patients continue to be at their mercy, as the rip off in the colonoscopy and hemorrhoids procedures, referred to earlier, clearly indicated.

This is a peculiar hospital because patients are unaware how much a surgical procedure would cost until it is completed, and to their utter dismay, a hefty bill is dished out more often than not, he noted. "SJGH is no longer a medical facility for the average citizen".

Referring to the colonoscopy, the union leader said the procedure was done on a young girl from an average family and in addition to the 45,000 charged by the doctor, another 4,300 rupees had been added to the bill for equipment used. "This simple procedure performed using the hospital’s own equipment cost the patient’s family a total of over 100,000 rupees".

This shouldn’t have happened at SJGH built in 1985 as a medical facility to cater to the lower and middle class, he explained. "But, this hospital seems to have lost its sense of fair-play".

"Of course, there are consultants who are doing an excellent job, but there is exploitation by some because of the absence of a regularized system on charges levied from patients", he pointed out. "They are earning millions but other employees don’t get anything extra".

Asked by The Sunday Island, a leading private hospital in Colombo said a colonoscopy could cost a maximum of 15,000 rupees inclusive of the consultant’s charges.

A senior government medical practitioner who asked not to be identified said a colonoscopy procedure could take between 15 minutes to half an hour. "It is a simple job".

Jayalath said that earlier, on the intervention of Kiran Atapattu, a SJGH director (who was removed in the recent reconstitution of the board), surgery and medical investigations were categorized under four headings and charges controlled and levied accordingly. "With the removal of Kiran Atapattu, who was a strict administrator, it is back to square one and exploitation continues".

Calling for the implementation of the findings of the Mahinda Amaraweera Committee which submitted its report in October 2010, he complained that even one year after, the health authorities continue to sit on it.

Repeated attempts to contact SJGH’s Chairman, Nimal Bandara on Friday were futile as his secretary said he has not come to office. When asked for his mobile number saying The Sunday Island needs his comments, she replied, "He has not given it to me".

Minister Sirisena had told the meeting that trade unions should work in close consultation with the new board of directors. He had not responded to the issues raised by the ACHSU.

"We were disappointed the Minister opted to ignore the critical issues we raised on SJGH", Jayalath said. "This is an institution with multiple burning issues but the Minister in charge preferred to keep mum".

With the exception of former Chairman H. W. E. Wijewantha and two other directors, entrepreneur Kiran Atapattu and Mahinda Samarasekera (Coordinating Secretary to the Minister), the SJGH board was reconstituted recently under the chairmanship of Nimal Bandara.

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