A gruelling healthcare crisis in Punjab turned nasty on Sunday when police launched a crackdown on protesting young medics following the failure of a last-ditch effort by intermediaries to avert a standoff.
The late-night swoop came a day after Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif set a 24-hour deadline for the Young Doctors Association, Punjab chapter, to unconditionally call off their two-week long strike or else face the consequences.
A group of senior doctors met with YDA representatives on Sunday to win them over – but the young medics refused to budge on their demands.
Subsequently, the police launched a crackdown on the doctors’ hostel at Lahore’s Services Hospital and detained 40 medics. Key YDA leaders, however, managed to dodge the police and escape from the hostel.
The general council of YDA was in session at the time of raid, according to officials. The meeting was discussing a future course of action following the breakdown of talks on Sunday.
“We have instructions from our senior officials not to beat or misbehave with any young doctor. We are here to detain them,” a police officer told The Express Tribune. Police also searched the hostel during the raid.
In retaliation, young doctors at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) closed down the emergency ward. Several medics also withdrew their services from indoor departments of several state-run hospitals, including Mayo and Services hospitals.
“We are also in contact with doctors in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan and the strike could be extended to other parts of the country if our demands are not met,” an YDA member told The Express Tribune.
To deal with the situation arising from the raid, the health department cancelled the leaves of all teaching and non-teaching cadres and directed the doctors to report on duty in their respective hospitals.
Earlier in the day, representatives from the Pakistan Medical Association and the Medical Teachers Association met with YDA officials.
“At a point they were ready to call it off and meet with the chief minister but then, all of a sudden, they got confused. They failed to take a decision and the deadline passed,” a senior professor, who attended the talks, told The Express Tribune.
“Apparently, the YDA is getting instructions from someone else. Half of their leadership was in Rawalpindi despite the fact that an important meeting was taking place in Lahore,” added another participant of the meeting.
A senior health department official blamed several professors and principals of medical colleges for the crisis. “A list of 50 troublemakers – who are professors and heads of institutes – has been compiled and they might be transferred to remote areas if their involvement with YDA is proved,” he added.
Special Assistant to the Chief Minister on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique told The Express Tribune that “Departmental action will be initiated against doctors from Monday (Today). As per law, they can be blacklisted, sacked and even sued,” he said. Rafique said 1,000 new doctors will be hired to run OPDs and senior doctors would also work to examine patients.
Another health department official said that the government would write to the British College of Physicians to ban the striking doctors. He said letters would also be sent to some Middle Eastern countries where Pakistani medics have a huge market, asking to a ban on doctors who create disturbance and cause problems for patients by closing OPDs.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 2nd, 2012.
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