GMOA: Authorities did not heed warning of docs’ exodus

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By Rathindra Kuruwita

It would take about two years for the government and the public to see the real impact of health staff leaving the country, and by the time the cracks in the healthcare system become visible, the damage will be irreversible, Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA), media spokesman Dr. Chamil Wijesinghe told The Island on Thursday.

The GMOA and other unions had warned the relevant officials that doctors were gearing up to leave the country from at least a year ago, the GMOA spokesman said.GMOA branches across the country had informed that doctors and other health professionals had started applying for foreign jobs since the start of the economic crisis, he said.

The staff shortages in hospitals have already crippled many peripheral hospitals, Dr. Wijesinghe added.

“The Health Ministry tried to scare doctors and other health staffers by threatening to take legal action. Some even threatened to stop doctors from emigrating at the airport. These threats have obviously not worked. Anyone keeping tabs on the news would have seen that the anaesthetist specialist at Hambantota Hospital has left without even informing anyone. This is a person who is qualified from a recognized foreign university and is attached to a big hospital. Given the highway, he is only three hours away from Colombo. Why has he left without informing anyone?” Dr. Wijesinghe asked.

Hambantota Hospital needs two anesthetist specialists. However, the government had not filled a vacancy for a long time, and the doctor who left had been doing the work of two people, the GMOA spokesman said.

“He had to be available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Now there is no one. The Director at Hambantota Hospital is trying to get other doctors to do the anesthetist specialist’s job. This is not fair to doctors or patients. Who will take responsibility if things go wrong? The shortage of anesthetist specialists is serious. The demand for consultant emergency physicians is high across the world. They also like Sri Lankans,” he said.

Various colleges of specialist doctors are receiving emails from the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK that they are willing to recruit from Sri Lanka, Dr. Wijesinghe said, adding that about 30 anesthetist specialists have left Sri Lanka in the last 18 months.

“There is no anesthetist specialist in Karawanella, Dehiattakandiya, several hospitals in Kalmunai, and Mahaoya. Soon, there will be no anaesthetist specialists in peripheral hospitals. Then it will be impossible to maintain emergency care units or any other unit that involves surgery. A specialist in anaesthesia must be present when any serious surgery is done. 842 doctors and 274 specialists have left the country between 01 June 2022 and 31 May 2023. About 250 who completed the internship didn’t accept their appointments. There were about 30 emergency care specialists, and now there are only seven. It’s obvious where this is going,” he said.

Dr. Wijesinghe mentioned that there is a systematic campaign to attack state healthcare on social media. The starting salary of a specialist is 88,000 rupees, and most of them in the periphery live in squalor, he said.

“No wonder that health staff are migrating.”

The GMOA said that apart from a few hospitals in the main cities, most state-run hospitals will have to be closed down in the next two years unless the migration of the health staff is not addressed.

“Poor people will suffer and die. Of course no one will take responsibility for the human tragedy when that happens,” he said.

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