The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the country’s powerful medical regulatory body, came out strongly this week against threats of intimidation and pressure, vowing to stand firm and sought civilsociety and media support in its efforts. In one voice, the full force of the SLMC including its President, Prof. Carlo Fonseka – facing the media [...]


‘We will not bow to threats or pressure’– SLMC

Seeks media and civil society support to safeguard hallowed profession.

The Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC), the country’s powerful medical regulatory body, came out strongly this week against threats of intimidation and pressure, vowing to stand firm and sought civilsociety and media support in its efforts.

In one voice, the full force of the SLMC including its President, Prof. Carlo Fonseka – facing the media on Wednesday – vowed to face any deadly threat, to safeguard the integrity and honour of the much-hallowed medical profession.
This also applied to Prof. Fonseka, a known supporter of the Government, who when asked by the Sunday Times, said: “I am in full agreement, 100%, with all that was said (at the media briefing).”

Lto R: Dr. Ananda Herath, Dr. S. Sivapriya, Prof Harsha Seneviratne, Dr. N.J. Nonis, Prof. Carlo Fonseka, Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva and Prof. Jayantha Jayawardana. Pic by M.D. Nissanka

The group of senior medical professionals was speaking to reporters on the failed but deadly attack on SLMC member and Consultant Surgeon, Dr. Lalantha Ranasinghe at his Dehiwela residence, where a grenade that failed to explode was found. “We will not bow to threats or pressure but stand firm in doing what is right for the safety of the public”, was the clear message from the group.

Stressing that Dr. Ranasinghe was targeted for expressing strong views on the three controversial issues the SLMC is confronted with, which the SLMC placed before the media. Apart from Prof. Fonseka, the others who addressed reporters were senior Prof. Jayantha Jayawardana, Director of the Postgraduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) and former Dean of the Sri Jayewardenepura Medical Faculty; senior Prof. Harshalal Seneviratne, former Dean of the Colombo Medical Faculty and Consultant Gynaecologist and Obstetrician; Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva, Consultant Physician; and Dr. S. Sivapriyan. The officials present were Registrar Dr. N.J. Nonis and Assistant Registrar Dr. Ananda Herath.

The fundamental issues that have plagued the SLMC are the problems that have cropped up with regard to substandard medical graduates who have studied at so-called foreign medical schools; the setting up of half-baked private medical colleges in the country and the pressure to register substandard or not fully-qualified foreign doctors, mainly from India, who come here to practise as specialists.

Stressing that medicine is different to any other profession, Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva, said that like in any other country in the world, Sri Lanka too tests the knowledge and capability of medical graduates who have qualified abroad before allowing them to treat patients here.

The Examination for Registration to Practise Medicine (ERPM, earlier known as the Act 16 exam) is held to ensure that minimum standards are maintained to protect the Sri Lankan patient, according to him and until recently about 40% passed it. However, those who were below standard and could not get through this exam caused trouble and even went to court. When they argued that the ERPM was more difficult than the final MBBS exam faced by the medical students in the local faculties, the court held that the Common Multiple Choice Question (MCQ) paper answered by the students of the eight medical faculties, should be set for those who have gone to foreign medical faculties.

“Then the pass rate dropped to 10%,” pointed out Dr. de Silva, resulting in more protests and even ridiculous suggestions that the medical graduates from foreign faculties should be allowed to practice without sitting the exam. Some of those who are agitating are not even sitting the ERPM, he said, stressing that the SLMC’s role is tosafeguard the patients.
Referring to the other burning issue of private medical colleges, Prof. Jayantha Jayawardana said, “Be it state or private, the system must be the same”.

Stressing that they were not opposed to the setting up of private medical faculties, he picked out the vital requirements that are mandatory for an institution imparting medical education. Theyincluded the qualifications of the academic staff who taught at these institutions, the teacher-student ratio, laboratory facilities, library facilities etc.

Underscoring the fact that “tutories can’t produce doctors”, he said that a hospital is essential for the medical students to do their clinicals.

Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva cited the example of India which does not recognize a private medical faculty unless it has a functioning hospital which has been up and running for two years, before the request for recognition of the medical faculty.
Recalling the setting up of the Medical Faculty of the Sri Jayewardenepura University in the mid-1990s, Prof. Jayantha Jayawardana said, the first time approval was sought it was not granted because there were shortcomings. Those needed to be filled.

With specific reference to the Malabe private medical college, Prof. Jayawardana said there are two main shortcomings pinpointed by the special five-member Health Ministry Committee including himself, appointed by the Health Minister. They were the lack of an experienced teaching staff and the lack of a hospital. It’s the responsibility of the private medical faculty to set up a hospital, he said, hastening to add that just a building is not good enough. There should be beds, the required wards and essentially the patients.

Many foreign medical faculties have asked to set up medical colleges in Sri Lanka, that’s why the first one should be properly regulated, he stressed.

Referring to foreign medical practitioners who come to Sri Lanka, Prof. Harshalal Seneviratne underscored the fact that it was the responsibility of the SLMC to ensure that they are fit to treatpatients, by giving them temporary registration.
Dr. S. Sivapriyan explained how registration was done before, but as there seemed to be no proper system, discussions resulted in a new and better procedure being introduced this year.

We need to check their skills and capability, said Prof. Harshalal Seneviratne, while Dr. Sivapriyan added that it was in this context that a new system was put in place in March-April this year, with the Health Minister agreeing that temporary registration should be granted only for a year, so that the new procedure can then take over.

However, suddenly, the Health Minister has ordered that registration be given for another year, without taking into consideration that substandard foreign doctors are treating local patients, he said.

Before these doctors are brought in, we need to check their skills, emphasized Dr. Sarath Gamini de Silva, adding that there has been massive pressure in this regard and the Health Minister has overruled the new procedure.“Therefore, we can’t do our duty by the people,” he said, with his colleagues agreeing vigorously.

While maintaining that they will not succumb to threats or pressure, ‘even when served with bombs’, the SLMC’s passionate plea was: Civil society and the media must help us in our quest to protect and safeguard the public of Sri Lanka.

Grenade attack:

Implement law strictly The SLMC has urged that the law be implemented to the letter with regard to the hand-grenade attack on the home of Dr. Lalantha Ranasinghe.It was a deadly threat and the culprits must be brought to book, the SLMC stressed.

SLMC’s role

The role of the SLMC, as explained by Dr. N.J. Nonis, is to safeguard the men, women and children of Sri Lanka by:

  • Checking the qualifications of all medical practitioners in the country and registering them to ensure a safe and effective health service.
  • Look into complaints against any medical practitioner and if proven, punish the person, with the severest form being striking such a person off the register.
  • Checking that high standards of medical education are maintained to ensure that those who pass out from medical faculties are fit to treat patients and thus not endangering the lives of the patients.

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