The simmering dispute between the Young Doctors Association (YDA) and the Punjab government has turned especially vicious. As the doctors — demanding better pay packages — continued the two-week strike they had called towards the end of June, the police swooped in on July 1 to arrest members of the organisation as its council met at the Services Hospital in Lahore. The key office-bearers managed to escape, while other doctors are behind bars. Last-ditch talks with senior doctors, who made efforts to bring the strike to an end had failed. The ruthless Punjab government action has made an already ugly situation far worse. Young doctors at other hospitals have joined the protest, in some cases walking away from wards. This is a very grave situation for the patients and even more worrisome yet, as the YDA says it is in contact with peers in other provinces, with plans to expand the strike.
The whole matter should have been dealt with months ago when the YDA agreed on a deal with the Punjab government. The organisation now claims that the terms were not adhered to. The Pakistan Medical Association has backed the young doctors’ demands, but not their methods, stating that it could have been possible to handle the whole issue with more finesse.
A wider view and a broader vision are required to resolve the dispute. The YDA has made its mistakes and seriously sick patients have suffered as a result. But the matter cannot simply be treated as a disciplinary offence, as the Punjab government is doing. The brain drain of doctors in the country is a very serious issue and we need to figure out a way to retain their services. It is also true, as is the case around the world, that it is young doctors who basically keep hospitals performing optimally, handling the bulk of the work. Most in the medical profession agree that junior doctors are badly underpaid. The methods they used to negotiate this injustice may be questionable, but the Punjab government can hardly claim to have handled the matter any better. As a result, a crisis that should have been solved a long time ago lingers on and threatens to assume increasingly ominous dimensions as the bitterness grows.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2012.
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