PGIM upset over suspension of foreign training

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The Ministry of Health has decided to temporarily suspend the mandatory foreign training for postgraduate trainees due to the limited foreign currency in the country. 

Director General of Health Services, Dr. Asela Gunawardena, in a letter, instructed the Director of the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM) to temporarily suspend offering further recommendations for foreign training, especially for those who were planning to be completely dependent on monthly living allowance from the Ministry.

He said however that those who had already arranged departure were allowed to precede “subject to use their own funds for expenses during the period of training,” he said that the funds would be reimbursed by the Health Ministry later. 

Speaking on the Ministry’s decision PGIM Director, Prof. Senaka Rajapaksa said that his institution of higher education was seriously concerned about the implications of the Ministry’s decision. “We understand that this issue has arisen because of the foreign currency crisis,” he said. 

Payment of the stipend is entirely under the purview of the Health Ministry and the PGIM only recommends payment, he added.   

Meanwhile, the Medical and Civil Rights Professional Association of Doctors (MCPA) urged President Ranil Wickremesinghe and the Finance Ministry to intervene in the issue without delay as it would lead to a future shortage of medical specialists and a further collapse of the health service in the island. 

President of the MCPA  Dr. Chamal Sanjeewa,  yesterday (28),vehemently condemned the move as it would severely affect the consultant training programme given to local medical practitioners. The requirement for foreign training is stressed upon even by the Post Graduate Institute of Medicine (PGIM). Foreign  training is a mandatory part in the prospectus issued to doctors who are reading for their post-graduate  degree for their relevant training course, it is not possible to become a recognised, and approved specialist doctor in Sri Lanka sans the relevant foreign medical training, he pointed out.      However, with the Director General of Health Services informing the Director of PGIM to temporarily suspend the referral of doctors for foreign medical training as a result of the economic tragedy that has arisen in the country, it will seriously affect the future existence of free education and free healthcare in Sri Lanka, he lamented. 

The economic crisis has eaten into community life resulting in shortages in gas, fuel, transport, medicines and school education.  But the directive issued by the DGHS to PGIM shows that health and higher education was to be further impacted. Annually at least 100 medical practitioners leave the country for foreign training. They are specialist doctors required for the country. But the current situation would severely impact the future of the country’s free health service.  It would be disheartening for MBBS qualified doctors to train to specialise in a particular field of medicine in the future and lead to a shortage of medical specialists in years to come.   

He urged the President and government authorities to take immediate measures to retract this decision and provide the necessary funds to continue the foreign training for medical specialists. Citing the instructions given by the DGHS, the MCPA President said, “It is unlikely that doctors who use their private funds to undergo the training would return to the country. While the costs incurred to undergo the particular foreign training amounts to about £ 2,000 which is about one million Sri Lankan rupees per month, he observed. 

He noted that a majority of doctors could not afford such a stupendous amount of money even if it was to receive a foreign training.

By Dilanthi Jayamanne