Psychologist told to quit, clinic closed

Red tape gets priority over patients’ wellbeing
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

It was a strange scene that patients were compelled to watch last Monday, February 28, during the morning session at the Outpatients Department of the National Hospital in Colombo. In walked an Administrative Officer to Room 40 of the OPD and in no uncertain terms told the Psychologist attending to his patients to close up and hand over the keys to the Chief Administrative Officer, a patient told the Sunday Times.

The attendant on duty was transferred to another section and the volunteer attendant sent by the Red Cross told to leave the premises, it is learnt. Marching orders had been issued to Psychologist Nimal Liyanage who has been treating patients for nine years at the NHSL. His patients, whom he helps to overcome psychological issues, not only come from the OPD but also the clinics and wards. They include those who have undergone cardiac surgery such as bypasses as well as burn victims.
At least 10 patients come to Room 40 daily, the Sunday Times understands, with it being open from Monday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

“I don’t know what happened,” explained Mr. Liyanage, stressing that he felt bad about all his patients after being ‘dumped’ that day. When he turned 60 on November 12, last year (2010), as per Circular 19/2010 issued by the Ministry of Public Administration Mr. Liyanage had sought and received a three-month extension up to February 12, 2011, it is learnt.

“On January 6, 2011, I applied for a further extension on a contract basis (as per Circular 09/2007), as I know that there is no other Psychologist under the Health Ministry and felt duty-bound not to leave my patients helpless,” he says, explaining that he sent the letter to NHSL Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe who in turn recommended it and forwarded it on January 9 to Dr. Ajith Mendis, the Director-General of Health Services.

Having no response, Mr. Liyange then sent a personal letter to Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena with copies to Secretary Dr. Ravi Ruberu and Dr. Mendis, followed by another letter to Dr. Weerasinghe on February 11.

To his amazement, on February 13, Dr. Weerasinghe had verbally informed him that he should hand over all materials in the room to the OPD Medical Officer and vacate the premises, says Mr. Liyanage, explaining that he responded with another letter dated February 23 in which he categorically stated that he would work free of charge, without a salary as he was concerned about his patients.

“I said I will work without a salary until someone else is appointed or I get a reply from the Health Ministry,” he said.

“He has reached retirement age,” said NHSL Director Dr. Hector Weerasinghe when contacted by the Sunday Times. When asked whether there was a response to Mr. Liyanage’s letter to the Director-General of Health Services, Dr. Weerasinghe replied in the negative, adding that to re-employ any person after retirement, Cabinet approval has to be sought.

Attempts to contact the D-G of Health Services, Dr. Ajith Mendis, failed with his office informing the Sunday Times that he was abroad.

Patients have been given short-shrift with no concern for their welfare while bureaucrats seem to be entangled in red tape.

Shouldn’t the Health Ministry’s priority be the patients’ wellbeing, was the question on the minds of those who come every day and see the door of Room 40 shut.

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