THE NATION Issued date 17 December 2013
In recent decades the Rural Doctors Society has played a prominent role as a whistleblower, exposing corruption and irregularities in procurement and management activities involving the Public Health Ministry and the medical industry.
Now the society is taking on another crucial role, tasked by the People’s Democratic Reform Committee with helping to set up a provincial PDRC network across the nation.
But several questions have been raised over this new role – in particular whether, by explicitly siding with the PDRC, the group has overstepped the appropriate bounds of medical workers’ activities.
“We will stop all policy corruption,” said Dr Suphat Hasuwankit, a member of the Rural Doctors Society. “We will not host the PDRC’s provincial network. We will only act as a facilitator.”
The society has decided to join the anti-government demonstrations and stand beside the PDRC because during the past several months it has been fighting with (now caretaker) Public Health Minister Pradit Sintavanarong and the ministry’s permanent secretary, Dr Narong Sahamethapat, over the adjustment of medical allowances based on the so-called pay-for-performance (P4P) principle, which has affected medical workers’ incomes.
The society has called for the removal of both Pradit and Narong from their positions, accusing them of weakening the public-health system through such actions as their medical-hub policy to support the growth of private hospitals.
Moreover, the society was angered when the ministry launched an investigation into alleged irregularities in the Government Pharmaceutical Organisation’s purchase and procurement of raw materials to make paracetamol, and the probe into delays in the construction of an influenza-vaccine plant and an HIV/Aids drug plant. The society believed Pradit was trying to interfere in the administration and management of the GPO, which is run by the society’s network.
The society also alleged that Pradit had been trying to damage the image of the GPO, and that he weakened the public-health system through his efforts to intervene in independent health agencies including the National Health Security Office, the Thai Health Promotion Foundation, the National Health Commission, the Health System Research Institute, and the Emergency Medical Institute of Thailand. These agencies are also run by the network of the Rural Doctors Society.
Pradit and Narong said they just wanted to clean up irregularities in the ministry’s administration and procurement procedures, which had been a problem for decades, but they had been strongly opposed by the society.
“The dissatisfaction over Pradit’s way of running the public-health system has accumulated for a year and now it has broken out into the open. That’s why hundreds of medical workers joined the protest,” Suphat said.
The conflict between the society and the ministry even affected the operation to provide emergency medical services for protesters affected by tear gas fired to disperse the demonstrations surrounding Government House and nearby areas during the past two weeks, he said. Under the national emergency plan, the ministry teamed up with the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s Erawan Emergency Medical Service to provide ambulances and treatment to the victims. Meanwhile, the society set up its own medical units to provide treatment to protesters. This interfered with the rescue operations of the main emergency medical services.
“Of course, as we are doctors we have to separate our political views from our job. We still have to provide treatment to all patients, no matter who they are or which side of the political movement they take,” Suphat said.