The out-patient departments in all public hospitals in the city were closed on Monday as doctors again went on strike to demand revisions to their service structure.
As thousands of patients had to be turned away from OPDs and many operations at teaching hospitals had to be postponed, the Health Department accused the Young Doctors Association (YDA), the body leading the strike, of refusing to discuss the problem. The YDA said the government had made no attempt to contact it, and the strike would continue.
A senior doctor at Mayo Hospital said that many patients who had travelled from outside Lahore had been turned away from the OPD without being examined. “This has become routine. It seems someone just has to send out a text message telling the doctors not to come to work and there is a strike. It’s regrettable,” he said.
Health Secretary Captain (retired) Arif Nadeem said the Punjab government had repeatedly contacted the YDA after it had announced its plan to go on strike, but they had refused to negotiate or even talk. “The young doctors don’t seem to be in the mood to negotiate,” said Arif Nadeem.
He said that the YDA’s demands for revisions to the service structure were unrealistic and would cost Rs94 billion annually, money the government simply did not have.
“The government gave a service structure in 2009 and Rs5 billion extra was given to the Health Department to give doctors a pay raise. The issues of promotions and the seniority list were also resolved. We believe that the doctors should be realistic,” he said.
“If we concede their demands, we would need to find another Rs94 billion annually. And then apart from their salaries, their house rent and other allowances would also have to be increased,” Nadeem said.
YDA Punjab spokesman Dr Nasir Bokhari said nobody from the Punjab government had attempted to contact the association on Monday and the strike would continue indefinitely.
The health secretary said that he had a record of phone calls made to YDA officials over several days including Monday.
He said that he had also written letters to them. “I ask them again, through you, to give up the strike and come sit with us to settle matters amicably,” he said.
The secretary suggested that, as a punitive measure, the department may consider making public an inquiry report into the YDA Punjab strike of April 2011, when emergency wards were closed and several patients died. “It’s an option,” he said.
However, another Health Department official said that this was unlikely to work, as the inquiry actually found the top leadership of the hospitals responsible for the deaths. “The government doesn’t want to make the report public as it would have to take action against its favourite administrators then,” he said.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 19th, 2012.
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