SAITM saga:Committee issues report amidst strikes and discussions
Parallel discussions to resolve the South Asian Institute of Technology and Medicine (SAITM) saga continued amidst strikes by doctors and protest marches, both on foot and by vehicles, opposing this private medical campus this week.
The Government on Friday said in a media release that admissions to SAITM have been suspended until the announcement of Minimum Standards for Medical Education.
The five-member Harsha de Silva Committee appointed by President Maithripala Sirisena to submit the “government’s solution” to the crisis issued its report while the Sri Lanka Medical Council (SLMC) is also having in- depth discussions with the office of Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe to find answers to the crisis.
A new development raising a lot of opposition is that some government institutions are attempting to take away the mandate of the SLMC – by appointing a Quality Assurance & Accreditation Council (QAAC) through a new bill with regard to higher education – on Minimum Standards for Medical Education and recognition of medical colleges, whether state or private.
“Who has seen the draft bill on higher education which is supposed to be in the ‘ final stages’? Who knows anything about the QAAC within this draft bill? Why are the Minimum Standards for Medical Education not being gazetted? No answers to any of the issues have been forthcoming, though talks and debates have been held,” said a health source, a view echoed by many others who reiterated that the basic issues still remain.
The ‘ latest’ in this complex saga encompassing SAITM, the SLMC, the University Grants Commission ( UGC), the Higher Education Ministry and the Health Ministry, with a legal battle in the backdrop, was an emergency meeting of the SLMC on Tuesday (September 12), the Sunday Times understands.
Amidst much debating, the SLMC had taken up two main issues, sources told the Sunday Times:
* The response of the UGC to the Minimum Standards for Medical Education proposed by the SLMC after taking into consideration the views of all stakeholders including the state medical faculty authorities.
* The request on e-mail by the Harsha de Silva Committee to sign the “minutes” of the meeting between the committee and some of the SLMC members on September 6.
With regard to the proposed Minimum Standards for Medical Education of the SLMC and the subsequent “major” changes suggested by the UGC, the SLMC had decided to stand by its original draft and allow only some minor changes, the Sunday Times learns.
The request, meanwhile, by the Harsha de Silva Committee to sign the “minutes” had generated much heat among the members during the emergency meeting.
“From the beginning, the Harsha de Silva Committee got on the wrong footing by calling, that too at very short notice, only some members and excluding others,” a source pointed out, explaining that first only the SLMC’s ‘ appointed’ members (those who are the nominees of the Health Minister and those who by virtue of their posts, as the eight Deans of the state medical faculties or their representa- tives get on the SLMC) had been called, generating much protest within the SLMC. The question which had immediately arisen was one of “bias and partiality” and whether it was a “deliberate” attempt to keep out the ‘elected’ members drawn from among those doctors and dental surgeons registered with the SLMC. Currently, there are some vacancies in the 25-member SLMC including the post of the President.
Ultimately, the SLMC members who had attended the Harsha de Silva Committee meeting had been Prof. Nilanthi de Silva, Prof. Rizvi Sheriff, Prof. Colvin Goonaratne, Prof. Jennifer Perera, Prof. Narada Warnasuriya, Prof. Surangi Yasawardene, Dr. K. T. Sunderasan, Dr. Chandana Atapattu and Dr. Pushpitha Ubesiri.
Another source added that the Harsha de Silva Committee had not grasped the fact that some of the SLMC members had to come from out of Colombo. The other factor was that the SLMC has not seen or analyzed the draft bill on higher education and as such it would not be advisable to commit itself on an unknown quantity.
The thinking in health circles is that this committee is attempting to twist the hand of the SLMC to sign “so-called minutes” without a long, hard look at the issues and instead bring about a QAAC which in effect will strip the SLMC of its powers in ensuring quality medical education and turn it into an ineffective and impotent rubber-stamp.
As such, the final decision at the SLMC emergency meeting had been that the SLMC will not place its signature on any such minutes. (Please see Page 1 for related story)