Health sector calms down with ministerial nominee’s appointment cancelled

By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

A crisis in the health sector over a recently-appointed ministerial nominee to the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) has simmered down after the appointment was cancelled. When Health Minister Maithripala Sirisena appointed two new members to the 25-member council on January 12, not only was the Government Medical Officers' Association (GMOA) up in arms, but many health professionals were also concerned that "this was the biggest crisis in the history of the SLMC", the Sunday Times understands.

SLMC President Carlo Fonseka

Alleging that the two council members, Dr. Shirley Herath and Prof. Rizvi Sheriff had a serious conflict of interest and should not be there when taking into account the current issues that the SLMC is grappling with, the GMOA which announced a day's strike action by the National Hospital branch of the association called it off when Minister Sirisena cancelled the appointment of Dr. Herath last Thursday, GMOA's Assistant Secretary Dr. Upul Gunasekara said. The other appointment is under discussion as well as certain salary issues, he said.

By Thursday night Minister Sirisena, taking into account the concerns expressed, withdrew the appointment, Dr. Gunasekara said explaining why they brought up the allegations of conflict of interest.

Currently, the SLMC is dealing with two major issues, he said. They are attempts to set up unregulated private medical colleges and substandard foreign medical graduates.

"We asked for the withdrawal of one of the recent appointments because not only has this doctor attempted to set up a private medical faculty in Piliyandala but also because he has a son whose application to sit the Examination for the Registration to Practise Medicine (ERPM formerly known as the Act 16) was refused due to certain valid reasons," said Dr. Gunasekara.

Both these had taken place between 2001 and 2007, it is learnt. The SLMC had refused to grant permission for the Piliyandala private medical faculty which was to be set up as the Vignan Institute as basic criteria were not fulfilled, a source said pointing out that in fact the current SLMC President Prof. Carlo Fonseka was also part of it for sometime.

Although another source pointed out that as Prof. Fonseka was involved with Vignan Institute on an honorary basis, the opinion of many senior medical professionals was that not only should the SLMC be transparent, but should also appear to be transparent.

Meanwhile, the other new member, Prof. Sheriff has a daughter, once again a foreign medical graduate, who has failed the ERPM and the SLMC is the body which holds this examination, said another GMOA member.

The SLMC's integrity would be at stake in this situation as well, this member argued, explaining that if by chance she passes the licensing examination now fingers could be pointed at the SLMC accusing it of favouritism.

The Sunday Times understands that these two controversial appointments were made on January 12 after two council members appointed by the Minister only last year resigned suddenly even though their tenure is for five years.

The SLMC comprises 25 council members. Its President and four members are appointed by the Health Minister who usually chooses respected medical professionals who have a standing not only among their peers but also their seniors and juniors, it is learnt.

The other 20 council members include: Eight elected from the eight medical faculties and one elected from the dental faculties in the country; eight more elected by medical practitioners, one by the dental professionals and one by the registered medical practitioners; and the Director-General of Health Services.

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