Our hospitals are no place for political statements

national March 18, 2014 00:00

By Pongphon Sarnsamak

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In a normal situation, it would be a worthy act for the Public Health Ministry and state hospitals nationwide to erect banners calling for an end to corruption and violence, but in the current political turmoil, such banners are likely to create conflict

Banners with statements about “anti-corruption” and “stop violence” have been erected at the Public Health Ministry and at state hospitals by the Medical Workers Community Network. 
The ministry’s permanent secretary Dr Narong Sahametapat is a key network member and during the past few weeks has come out to oppose the caretaker government led by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. 
During recent months, the Medical Workers Community Network has played a prominent role in the political arena, protesting against the government and alleged corruption. At the same time, the movement has been heavily criticised over whether it is appropriate for medical workers to use government offices and hospitals to display their political feelings. 
It seems many medical workers were happy and proud when they saw Public Health Ministry buildings and hospitals covered by banners expressing their political stance. Some had taken “selfie” pictures with the banners and posted them on their social-media sites.
Meanwhile, people in other provinces such as Nakhon Sawan and Ratchaburi have rallied at the hospitals and asked medical workers to remove the banners, saying medical centres should be free from politics. 
Public Health has insisted that all medical workers must provide treatment and save people’s lives, no matter what political side they were on. 
The network’s use of government offices to express a political stance is, in fact, likely to create conflict with medical workers and patients who do not agree with them. 
It may be a basic right for every person to express a political opinion, but medical workers should not use medical institutes or government offices to tell other people their personal beliefs. 
In normal times, the Public Health Ministry and hospitals produce tens of thousands of banners to disseminate messages on health promotion and disease prevention. 
However, during the current political turmoil, many ministry and hospital buildings have been covered by banners made by the non-governmental Medical Workers Community Network. 
Recently some of the banners erected by the network were removed from the ministry’s permanent secretary building. 
Once the People’s Democratic Reform Committee (PDRC) protesters learned the banners had been taken down, they invaded the Public Health Ministry to find out the reason. 
PDRC leader Issara Somchai was among the group who demanded to see Kamol Bandaiphet, secretary of caretaker Public Health Minister Pradit Sinthawanarong, and deputy permanent secretary Dr Chanvit Tharathep, whom they believed had instructed police to remove the banners. 
Protesters shouted they had been instructed by Issara to seek an explanation from the duo. Some ministry staff joined in the protest and blew whistles. 
As a result, protesters got access to the roof, re-erected the banners and, after failing to locate Kamol and Chanvit, left the building. 
The Public Health Ministry was not the only place to be invaded. The private Mongkutwattana General Hospital was also attacked by unknown assailants. 
It’s not known if this incident was connected to the political stance of the hospital’s director, but it reflected that patients could be at risk from unprecedented incidents during the political turmoil. 
Medical workers have the right to express their political stance no matter what side they’re on, but professionally, the expression of their political opinions should be outside the hospitals or medical institutes. They still have the responsibility to provide medical treatment to all people, no matter where they stand politically. 
It would be better for the Public Health Ministry, or a group of medical workers, to erect banners – if they must – with messages promoting harmony 
in society, instead of creating more conflict.

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