PHIs and Govt doctors raise labour shortage issues
By Dilanthi Jayamanne
Labour shortage-related concerns were raised by both public health inspectors (PHIs) and Government medical doctors, who are on the front line of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The PHIs’ Union of Sri Lanka (PHIUSL) criticised the Health Ministry for allegedly dragging its feet over the appointment of the Principal PHI, a position which has been vacant for over two years, while the Government Medical Officers’ Association claimed that the Public Service Commission’s (PSC) undue interference in transfers had led to the shortage of 89 specialist doctors in teaching hospitals, including those who were transferable every four years and end post specialists who were not transferable at the end of four years.
PHIUSL Secretary, M. Balasooriya, added yesterday (24) that there are four senior PHIs eligible for the position, stating also that it is not a post that should be filled by a medical practitioner, but by a knowledgeable PHI in the service. He further pointed out that the filling of the vacancy would result in PHI representation in committees (including at the Ministerial level) which make decisions which effect the public and the health services, such as during crucial times like at present, where the COVID-19 pandemic is raging around the country.
For this appointment to be made, the Health Minister must submit a paper to Cabinet. Until such time as a permanent appointment is made, the Director General of Health Services can appoint a person in an acting capacity.
Acting Deputy Director General (Public Health), Dr. Hemantha Herath, who was questioned in this regard at a recent Media briefing, said there is a legal technicality which had proved a barrier for PHIs to apply for the post. He said, however, that steps would be taken to appoint a senior PHI to act in this capacity, but declined to give a specific timeframe. Meanwhile, GMOA Secretary, Dr. Senal Fernando, alleged that by instructing the Health Department to send 89 vacancies in a list instead of taking each of them individually, the PSC had created a dilemma. According to the GMOA, the PSC was further delaying the process, by making claims that there was no clarity with regard to the number of medical professionals required to fill the vacancies. Also, the GMOA further alleged that the PSC has not given their approval to some of the specialist vacancies which were permissible.
As per the policy on these transfers (approved by the health service minute of the medical service) which the Health Department is tasked with implementing, transfers must be done through a board, instead, the PSC had called for the establishment of a committee which is not part of the Transfer Board, Dr. Fernando claimed. All the PSC has to do is to observe as to whether this policy was adhered to, he added.