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The government is to introduce channel practices at State hospitals and moves towards this are still at initial stages.

The motive behind the move is to utilise the facilities at government hospitals and ensure that the manpower and machinery are not left idling in the evenings.

High ranking Health Ministry officials said that many facilities including operating theatres, radiology and x-ray units are not used after 4pm. “This is done in order to utilise our facilities and bring in more revenue to the ministry,” an official said.

The official also pointed out that there was a large number of patients who were in line for non-emergency or routine surgeries including bypass and hernia.

This move has been welcomed by several segments of the society including patients and doctors.

Peiris who is already in his fifties has to depend on frequent medication and regular checkups. He goes to a private practitioner and is at times short of money to spend for his treatment.

“If channelling is done at Government hospitals, it will benefit middle class people like us. It is a good initiative,” he said.

Meanwhile, doctors who have just commenced practicing at government hospitals too have welcomed the initiative.  “This is a good opportunity for us as young doctors to get more exposure and also to earn an additional income. But the process needs to be planned properly and implemented in a manner in which the ongoing activities are not hampered,” a young doctor who wished to remain anonymous told Weekend Nation.

Patients welcome move
The People’s Movement for the Rights of Patients commended the move, adding that if the government intended to bring down the consultation fee, which in the private sector at present ranged between Rs. 1,000 to Rs 3,000, it was a good move.

President of the Movement, Louis Benedict explained that the provision of a more affordable healthcare was ultimately one of the objectives of the principles espoused by the father of the national drug policy, the late Prof. Senaka Bibile.

He, however, raised concerns regarding the efficiency of public hospitals as in general there was a lack of commitment to be seen and experienced in the service.

“Private hospitals operate as big businesses,” Benedict noted and added that while a business-like approach was fine like in any other trade, plundering money from the sick in such a manner was wholly immoral.

“A mere consultation costs Rs 2,000 or Rs 3,000. Then one has to spend Rs 3,000 on the tests ordered by the doctor and a further Rs 2,000 on the prescribed medicinal drugs which are expensive. Poor people cannot go anywhere near a private hospital and even the middle class cannot afford to spend Rs 8,000. Most patients get a heart attack when they see their medical bills. Thus, most prefer to suffer. We will give this proposed move a chance and see how it works,” Benedict reasoned.

Streamline the process – Lab Technologists
Secretary of the Sri Lanka Association of Government Medical Laboratory Technologists (SLAGMLT), Keerthi Wickramaratne said that while they welcomed the move, it was important that the process be carried out with a proper plan.

“This was initially proposed over a year ago. We will back it if implemented properly. This move should not in any way hamper the day to day activities of hospitals,” he said.

Private hospitals to support if patients get a better deal
The Association of Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes said that it was only a suggestion, which they would support if the patients would get a better deal.

The Association is scheduled to discuss the matter soon.

Secretary of the Association, Wijaya Ransi  explained that the government would be controlling the charges the customers would have to pay.

“At the moment, State hospitals refer patients to the private hospitals as they cannot cope with the large number of patients seeking treatment,” he added.

Conjoining public and private health sectors problematic – health TUs
“Why cannot the government get the doctors in State hospitals working on a shift basis,”  an official of the Health Services Trade Union Alliance questioned while adding that this was the solution.

President of the Alliance, Saman Ratnapriya added that conjoining the private health sector and the public health sector was something that should be done extremely carefully as it is probable that issues such as the private sector developing by obtaining monies while the State sector regresses and breaks down could arise.

“The people’s needs are far greater than the State sector can cope up with in terms of the number of hospitals and other aspects. This is why the private sector is there. It is better if these are continued as separate entities and institutions for purposes of stability.

Otherwise, this could be a problem. The State’s public health service should be expanded according to the needs,” he explained.

Regulate other professions too – GMOA
The Government Medical Officers Association (GMOA) pointed out that the consultation fees charged by all professional categories should be regulated and doctors alone should not be targetted.

Secretary of the Association, Dr. H.M. Nalinda P. Herath said that during night-time, operating theatres in State hospitals were not optimally utilized and therefore using them for income generation was a good option. He, however, added that the existent free public healthcare service should not in any way be compromised in the process.

As far as the usage of theatres in the daytime is concerned, the reason why there is a gap between theatre lists is because the theatres and in particular equipment used in operations must be cleaned properly, a process which takes time.

“Engineers, architects and lawyers can charge any amount, so why are the doctors being isolated for regulation?” he queried.

“At the moment, we are neither for nor against it. Minister of Health Dr. Rajitha Senaratne should discuss it with the relevant stakeholders, regarding the way of doing things prior to implementation. Allowing doctors to engage in private practice was a policy decision taken in 1980,” he said.