SLMC must play proactive role
Daily Mirror Editorial
Jan 18, 2011

The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) is like the supreme court for health services, the medical and paramedical professions. It has powers to enforce ethics and lay down guidelines for medical doctors and can even take action in cases where doctors are found to have violated ethics, acted irresponsibly or negligently. Unfortunately over the past few decades, the SLMC often played a reactive role and even then did not take effective action when there was substantial evidence of violation of ethics or irresponsible behaviour by those in the medical or paramedical professions.

The serious violations of ethics included conflicts of interest where the medical profession was offered not only five-star sponsorship but also multi-million-rupee scholarships or pleasure trips by another stakeholder. This may have been one of the reasons why medicine which was once regarded as a sacred vocation for doctors who took the Hippocratic Oath, gradually turned into a profession.

After the onset of the wholesale capitalist market economic system, the profession degenerated into a virtual business with pharmaceutical companies and pharmacies, private hospitals or clinics and medical specialists making millions at the expense of unsuspecting patients.

It is in such a grave or deadly scenario that the government has decided to intervene, take direct control of the SLMC and appoint the eminent physician Professor Carlo Fonseka as the President of this powerful medical supreme court.

The widely respected Prof. Carlo Fonseka has several decades of experience and as the Dean of the Kelaniya University’s Medical Faculty he has taught and trained thousands of doctors.

Patients’ rights and health action groups hope that Prof. Fonseka would lead the SLMC in playing a proactive role to restore a health service where the well-being of the patient is given top priority. Some medical associations have protested against the decision to make the SLMC a public enterprise. But patients’ rights and health action groups point out that even in countries like the United States and Britain – master builders of the market economy – the health service is kept out of the market and monitored by the government with strict regulations. So must it be in Sri Lanka. Making the SLMC a state enterprise is an important step for the government to monitor and regulate the health service. Social analysts have pointed out that if health is left in the market the poor who can’t afford healthcare will be left to die. Health rights groups also hope that the SLMC under Prof. Carlo Fonseka will play an effective role in advising and guiding the government on the implementation of a Charter of Patients’ Rights and Responsibilities and a constitutional amendment to make health a fundamental right.

Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena told a news conference last Thursday that legislation for the setting up of a National Medicinal Drugs Regulatory Authority (NMDRA) had been approved by the Attorney General and would be presented to the Cabinet soon. The Minister said he was aware that while the biggest fraud in the world was in the arms industry, the second biggest fraud was in the pharmaceutical trade. Mr. Sirisena said that though he was under tremendous pressure he was determined to go ahead with the legislation to set up the NMDRA and implement the National Medicinal Drugs Policy (NMDP) within the next two or three weeks in line with the principles of the revered Professor Senaka Bibile. The effective implementation of this legislation and a more proactive role by the SLMC under Prof. Carlo Fonseka will make 2012 a people-friendly year in terms of healthcare.

Source: Daily Mirror - Sri Lanka