Sri Lanka’s embattled private teaching hospital up for sale

Dr Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital - NFTH

Sri Lanka’s Neville Fernando Teaching Hospital belonging to the country’s only private medical school is up for sale valued at 3.55 billion rupees.

The immediate sale of the 1,000-bed hospital is based on a government valuation. A loan from Bank of Ceylon for 2.5 billion rupees can be transferred, an advertisement placed by the hospital said.

The teaching hospital is part of Sri Lanka’s embattled private medical school, South Asia Institute of Technology and Medicine in Malabe (SAITM). Since its inception in 2009, medical professionals bodies have opposed the existence of the private med school.

“There are two groups opposing us,” says SAITM’s founder Dr Neville Fernando.

“The medical council and the government doctors’ union (Government Medical Officers’ Association, popularly called the GMOA). They want to keep the profession to themselves because they can mint money with private practice.

“There is a shortage of doctors in the country, and these people want to keep the profession closed and all to themselves,” he said.

Sri Lanka government finally took over the SAITM medical faculty in 2017 giving into striking government doctors and student bodies of public-funded medical schools objecting to it being private and for-profit.

The Sri Lanka Medical Council, the self-regulatory body of the profession, has also refused to license SAITM’s doctors preventing them from finding work here, mostly on the grounds that the private med school did not offer adequate clinical and field training.

The GMOA threatened strike action when SAITM med students were allowed to undergo clinical training at government hospitals, prompting Fernando to build the teaching hospital at Malabe, borrowing 2 billion rupees from Bank of Ceylon.

A new fee levying medical college to award medical degrees will admit students from 2019, in association with Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology, an existing not-for-profit degree awarding school.

Existing medical students will be allowed to complete their degrees but have to sit a separate exam to be licensed by the SLMC, which tax-payer funded med students don’t have to sit.

Public funded medical schools are monitored by the SLMC which does not disclose quality standards.

Sri Lanka needs more doctors, particularly specialists.

In 2015, Sri Lanka had one doctor for 1,100 people, above the WHO minimum standard but below countries with good healthcare systems: the UK had a doctor for every 357 people, in Spain 208, Germany 257 and France 312. Sri Lanka is even behind the world average of 650 people per doctor.