The Punjab Medical Association (PMA) has backed the Young Doctors Association’s (YDA) demands for revisions to the service structure for doctors, threatening “province-wide agitation” from Thursday, when the YDA also plans to step up its protests.
However, PMA Punjab President Dr Ashraf Nizami was careful not to voice support for the YDA’s strike at the outpatient departments in public hospitals, which entered its seventh day on Sunday.
“The current strike is on the call of the YDA Punjab and we will not comment on it,” said Dr Nizami, speaking at a press conference after a PMA meeting attended by representatives of the 36 PMA district organisations in Punjab. “However, the demands given by them are the unanimous demands of the whole medical community.”
He gave the government a deadline of Thursday. “If the demands are not accepted, we will be left with no choice but to call a province-wide agitation on this issue,” he said. The PMA formed a committee headed by Dr Mehr Muhammad Iqbal to plan the agitation.
The YDA Punjab has called a meeting of its General Council on Thursday to discuss plans to intensify the strike such as holding demonstrations and putting up road blocks outside the Punjab Assembly and boycotting emergency wards and indoor patient departments in hospitals as well.
The PMA, through a unanimous resolution at its meeting, also urged the government to withdraw the Punjab Rural Support Programme and the “ineffective and failed” policy of giving autonomy to medical institutions, said Dr Nizami.
Who will pay for raises?
At a meeting with government officials last Wednesday, YDA officials demanded three measures – give all doctors a one-scale promotion, raise the non-practising health allowance and the stipends of postgraduate trainees to the level of medical officers – costing Rs6 billion that the government must take immediately to end the strike. It also presented several other long-term measures, costing Rs34 billion a year, that the government must agree to take.
There have been no discussions between the two sides since. But in a statement released on Sunday, Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique indicated that the government was not yet ready to give in to the doctors’ demands.
Rafique said that the doctors’ demands would come at the cost of the many poor people that receive free or very cheap treatment at public hospitals. “The government cannot enhance doctors’ salaries … by making cuts to the funds allocated for [the treatment of the poor],” he said.
“The provision of free medical treatment to the people is the core mission of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif and all medical and diagnostic facilities in emergency departments as well as indoors in hospitals are being provided at a one-rupee token fee, which is unprecedented. The government is spending billions of rupees on these facilities. Would it be justified if doctors’ salaries were enhanced by cutting the funds allocated for the provision of free treatment facilities to the poor?”
He said that the budget for doctors’ pay had been increased manifold to Rs24 billion over the last four years. He noted that doctors’ pay had been raised through a Rs5.25 billion special package announced just last year. The government had also promoted 1,650 doctors in the last six months. He noted that a grade-17 government officer was paid Rs30,000 a month, while a medical officer, also in grade-17, was paid Rs60,000 per month.
“In a country facing load shedding, poverty and economic crisis it is not possible that doctors are paid salaries at par with doctors in Saudi Arabia or the USA,” he said. “Not only doctors, but all government servants and common men are facing price-hike. The doctors should accept ground realities and discharge their duties efficiently and honestly like other government employees.”
Published in The Express Tribune, 25th, 2012.