Standard of care suffers from choosing to prioritise surgeriesView(s):
By Nathara Abeywickrema
Following the directive from Health Minister Keheliya Rambukwella that non-essential and non-urgent surgeries in hospitals be delayed amid the lack of thousands of surgical items and hundreds of essential medicines, doctors are at cross-purposes about the directive.
Sri Lanka imports about 80 percent of its medical supplies and it does not have foreign currency for the purpose following economic bankruptcy in April 2022. Since then, it has been relying on a credit line from India. But, attempts at purchases by Mr Rambukewella, without tendering and bypassing registration or quality checks, have raised the stink of corruption.
The supply of some medicines is critically low, and some are simply not available. Many anaesthetic drugs are not available through the Medical Supplies Division.
This situation impedes emergency surgeries, outpatient services, intensive care, and even caesareans at state and private sector hospitals.
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) has said there is a shortage of all materials and the demand fluctuates.
GMOA media secretary Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe told the Sunday Times the shortage of anaesthetic drugs led the Health Ministry to direct that certain surgeries be postponed. Other drugs that are basic and essential, such as painkillers and antibiotics, are also in short supply, he said.
Minister Rambukwella ordered that all non-urgent and routine surgeries be postponed because of the severe shortage of anaesthetic drugs.
Dr. Wijesinghe said: “Prioritising surgery is a daunting task. Emergency or life-saving surgeries have to be done within hours, while some others have to be done within a few days, which are emergency surgeries. However, almost all health problems have to be straightened out as quickly as possible.”
Officials of the College of Anaesthesiologists working in the state sector further addressed the issue saying: “It is hard to appraise the impact of these shortages, but we can certainly say that it impacts the standard of medical care. At times surgeries may have to be carried out in a non-ideal manner owing to shortages, but hospitals are hanging on.
“For patients, whatever ailments they have, that is a priority for them. We are trying our level best to sort out the health issues. These patients’ concerns are urgent since health is a foremost issue. We are currently in a difficult position about making a decision on prioritisation.’’
Dr. Wijesinghe said that as a responsible organisation, the GMOA urged the Ministry of Health in August last year to institute a proper mitigation mechanism, but nothing had been done.
“While we are enthusiastic about the Government’s commitment to addressing the issues, we worry the proposed solutions would not address the problem. Towards disentangling, the country needs more effective and evidence-based strategies, reducing corruption vulnerabilities and efforts to unlock Sri Lanka’s growth potential to beat the growing economic crisis,” Dr. Wijesinghe said.
Ministry officials say shortcomings in the healthcare sector are inevitable, due to the economic crisis, but that essentials are available and that the medicine shortage is being resolved.
Doctors says putting off non-essential surgeries will effectively ensure that the waiting lines will get even longer.
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