Five-day week for docs is talking point in health circles

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

Health circles are abuzz with the news that the Chilaw General Hospital has implemented a five-day work week for government doctors, while senior officials deny that any such decision has been taken on this “sensitive issue.”

Continuity is of paramount importance in patient care. The Sunday Times understands that no circular with regard to a five-day week for state doctors has been sent out. Both the Health Ministry and provincial sources say no firm decision has been made.

It is vital that the possible repercussions on patients are considered before such a crucial decision is taken, stressed a Ministry source, explaining that a pilot project is under way at the Negombo Hospital to see how a five-day system would work.

The source did not mention that a similar pilot project was implemented at the Karapitiya Hospital and that it did not work out, as found out by the Sunday Times.

There was a suggestion that the pilot project at the Negombo Hospital should be expanded to cover all hospitals in the North Western Province, but the provincial authorities expressed serious concern and the project has been shelved until in-depth studies are carried out, the Ministry source said.

Provincial authorities confirmed that they are seeking further discussions with the Ministry on the five-day week issue before even a pilot project is set in motion in the NWP, and that even if such a decision is taken, it has to be approved by the Governor before implementation.

A high-level source at the Chilaw Hospital said, however, that the five-day week has been implemented on a “letter received from the Health Ministry Secretary”, and that he saw nothing wrong in doing so without a specific circular.

The source said the five-day week has been implemented at all hospitals in the North Western Province, although provincial authorities have denied this.

Incidentally, the Sunday Times understands that moves are under way to hand over the Chilaw Hospital, which is under the North-Western Provincial Health Ministry, to the central government to come under the Health Ministry shortly.

Health sources are critical of the confusion over the five-day issue, and the “arbitrary decision” taken by the Chilaw Hospital. They say important issues of this kind should be a policy decision taken at the highest level, after due consideration.

Not only the welfare of the doctors but also that of hundreds of “voiceless” men, women and children who come to government hospitals as patients should be taken into consideration, a source said.
No one denies that government doctors are doing a difficult job under difficult conditions, and that ideally they should get the weekend off to de-stress and come back fresh on Monday. But is this the right time, and is the system in place for such a move, a senior doctor asked, conceding that “I would love to have the weekend off to be with my family.”

Is this the death knell for Sri Lanka’s state health system, which is held up as a “model” in the region, asked a top administrator, pointing out that all the pros and cons should be studied “very carefully.”
No one grudges the doctors a weekend off, but are there enough doctors to manage the patients; are the out-patient departments (OPDs) and emergency services working flawlessly; are proper rosters in place to ensure that the doctors who are supposed to save lives do not become dealers of death, asked another concerned health source.

Don’t rush such a decision, requested another senior doctor. He pointed out that many doctors may not agree with a five-day week now, as an efficient system is not yet in place, but they do not want to rock the boat as there are “unseen actors” behind the scenes pushing for its implementation. “The detrimental effects will come only later, and the patients will suffer,” he added.

A special day for your Bubble Baby

The gifts were huge and colourful, the car-cake and short-eats delicious, but the only thing the baby wanted was the balloons.

The baby was also oblivious to the fact that the party yesterday with all the decorations and the major well-wishers in his life, at the Colombo Medical Faculty was for him.

It was a celebration of life for Sanjana Praveen Shivanka, the Bubble Baby of Sri Lanka, who turned one year old on July 12, arranged by the caring staff of the Human Genetics Unit of the Colombo Medical Faculty.

As his parents attempted to make Shivanka cut the cake, in walked a special guest, Dr. Revathi Raj who has been looking after him in India.

"Shivanka has had a novel kind of transplantation of stem cells without chemotherapy which has given him the chance to survive to his first birthday," says Dr. Revathi, adding,

"This will need to be boosted through a second procedure to make sure he has a healthy, infection-free future. He looks well today thanks to the dedicated work of his doctors in Sri Lanka and the goodwill of the public."

Pix by M.A. Pushpa Kumara

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