Two days off for docs, death knell for patients

As moves are underway to implement a five-day working week for government doctors, concern is being expressed in health circles whether it will be the last nail in the coffin of a doddering state health system.
Is it the right time to give the weekend off to doctors, a senior health source asked, pointing out that the country was in the vice-like grip of a burgeoning dengue epidemic.

All is not right with the health system, another said, explaining that poor and humble patients whose only recourse to health is the public hospital will be left high and dry. Many will be the deaths, he said.

A pilot project has already been conducted in Negombo and Karapitiya to check out the feasibility of state doctors being given two days (Saturday and Sunday) off instead of the one day (Sunday) now, the Sunday Times understands.

Attempts to introduce the five-day week in the North Western Province from July 1 have fallen through, a health source said, with requests that it should be implemented in the whole country and not in just one area.

A five-day week is being considered in view of the stress that doctors undergo, to give them more time to relax and come in refreshed the next week, a senior doctor pointed out. What of the humble patients, another queried, explaining that most sub-speciality referrals like ear and eyes were on Saturday, especially for children so that they need not miss school, while echocardiograms and ultrasounds are also scheduled for Saturday.

There is a positive and a negative side to this, another doctor said, adding that they too need leisure time not only for themselves but also to spend with their families. If there is a proper roster system, there will not be any ill-effect on the patients but if doctors especially consultants play truant and leave by noon on Friday for their thriving private practice, the impacts would be terrible, the source conceded.
Another side effect of the five-day week would be on the clinics of the Medical Officers of Heath (MOH) where the very foundation on which children’s health is built on is laid, it is learnt.

These clinics conduct immunization on Saturday and parents find it convenient, without having to forego a day’s precious work, a doctor said.

Usually, a five-day week works in countries where the health system is functioning smoothly, stressed a senior doctor. With mixed views on a shorter working week and the scales tilted more to the negative side, the health authorities need to take a second and more serious look at the scheme, he said, adding that drastic and hasty decisions will lead to the collapse of the health system.

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