Around 25,000 patients were left unattended in the city’s public hospitals on Thursday as doctors went on strike in protest at the Health Department’s decision to transfer 450 medical officers (MOs).
The Young Doctors Association (YDA) warned that the strike would be expanded to the rest of the province if the transfers were not cancelled by Saturday. “If the transfers are not withdrawn, we will observe a strike in all the public hospitals in the Punjab,” said YDA spokesman Dr Nasir Bokhari.
Meanwhile, a Health Department spokesman criticised the doctors over the strike, saying it was well within the department’s power to transfer them. He said the transfers were ordered to accommodate new doctors hired by the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC).
Dr Bokhari, the YDA spokesman, rejected the spokesman’s claim, saying that in 2010, the Health Department had accommodated 750 new medical officers without “punitive transfers”.
Other officials in the Health Department said that the outcome of previous strikes by doctors, particularly those led by the YDA, suggested that the government would end up giving in and cancelling the transfers. They said that the orders had united two YDA factions – one led by Dr Hamid Butt and the other led by Dr Rana Sohail that had been at odds.
The officials said that the doctors being transferred were from the YDA and the transfers were meant to break the association’s strength. However, the plan backfired as both factions had been united in anger at the orders.
“The matter could have been handled easily by phase-wise transfers. This was done to break the YDA but it has backfired and brought the two factions together,” said a Health Department official, adding that it was now considering cancelling the transfers.
“The doctors observing the strike are not only breaching their oath but also trampling the basic rights of the patients,” said the Health Department spokesman.
He said that the department had issued transfer orders only for doctors who had completed their training or whose tenure of posting was more than three or four years. He said the department had the legal authority to transfer doctors whose tenure had finished.
The spokesman said that 691 doctors selected by the PPSC had been posted to various hospitals, out of which 436 were postgraduate trainee doctors posted to teaching hospitals for completing Fellow of the College of Physicians and Surgeons (FCPS) training.
He said that after the PPSC had selected the doctors, the department could not keep the doctors it had hired on an ad-hoc basis. However, the government had offered them postings to hospitals in districts neighbouring Lahore so they would not face complete unemployment.
The YDA also led doctors’ protests for improved pay in the Punjab last year. The Punjab government set up a commission headed by Justice (r) Saeedur Rehman Farrukh to investigate deaths that occurred at hospitals during the doctors’ strike in June and to fix responsibility for the deaths.
A member of that commission told The Express Tribune that the commission, whose findings and recommendations were never made public, had recommended that the Cooperates Department cancel the YDA’s registration.
“We said the YDA was not a legal body. It is registered under the Cooperative Department as an association, which is illegal. We asked the government to direct the Cooperatives Department to cancel the YDA’s registration, but it didn’t implement our recommendations,” the member said.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 13th, 2012.