Opening OPDs 24/7: Impracticable, say health unions, docs to decide tomorrow

by Dasun Edirisinghe

The government’s decision to keep the Out Patient Departments (OPDs) in government hospitals open twenty four hours a day would create major problems, health sector trade unions say.

President of the All Ceylon Health Service Union Gamini Kumarasinghe said the decision was people-friendly but impracticable.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa has instructed the Health Ministry Secretary to take steps to open the OPDs of all State hospitals 24/7. The main objective of this measure is to ease congestion in OPDs of government hospitals. Kumarasinghe said there was a severe drug shortage in government hospitals at present. At the OPDs of most government hospitals, patients were given prescriptions for drugs to be purchased at private pharmacies. The same was true of medical laboratories, he said.

Kumarasinghe said: "There are only 11, 000 doctors in the country and they are sufficient to man OPDs only for eight hours. The country needs 40,000 nurses, but at present there are only 24,000 nurses. How can you run OPDs throughout the day without sufficient personnel?" he asked.

Kumarasinghe said the hospital minor staff had to do 100 extra hours, but were paid only for 60 hours. They would not exert themselves any more without being paid for their labour, Kumarasinghe said.

Last year too, the government had effected a fund cut amounting to Rs. 7,260 million allocated from the 2010 budget for government hospitals, Kumarasinghe said adding it was difficult to implement the government decision without sufficient funds and personnel.

President of the Government Nursing Officers Association Saman Ratnapriya said the government decision was good but the required facilities and personnel had to be provided for its implementation.

He said the private sector healthcare providers would oppose the government decision as they would be badly hit, if the decision at issue was implemented.

The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) said it would discuss the matter on Thursday (28). GMOA Spokesman Dr. Chandana Atapattu told The Island that its position on the government decision would be made public after its Executive Committee meeting on Thursday.

Health Secretary Dr. Raveendra Ruberu said initially OPDs would open for 24 hours at some selected government hospitals as a pilot project and steps would be taken to expand the scheme to cover other hospitals.

There are 37 government hospitals under the Health Ministry.

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