I was at Piccadilly, the cafeteria at the King Edward Medical University (KEMU) and Mayo Hospital, with a doctor friend when another doctor came to our table and broke the news that some 450 doctors had been transferred by the Punjab government. “Are the transferred ones from the Young Doctors’ Association (YDA)?,” inquired my friend. “Yes”, he replied.
“The government will have to withdraw these orders. It’s an attempt to break the YDA but it will backfire”, said my friend. This was April 11, 2012. At that time, I thought my friend’s prediction was a valid one. But the next few days proved me wrong. The doctors had been transferred to adjust 691 newly-recruited doctors. In protest, the YDA, Punjab announced to go on strike in Lahore from April 12. On April 16, the YDA extended the strike to the rest of Punjab and put up an additional demand of being provided with a service structure, which attracted doctors from across the province and even those who had not been transferred started supporting the strike. On April 19, the strike was called off after the government withdrew the transfers. However, by then, the demand for a service structure had been raised and the YDA asked the government to comply with it.
However, no development took place on the provision of a service structure and the YDA announced that it would again go on strike from May 9. After the strike announcement, the government negotiated with the doctors and a committee was formed to submit its proposals to change the service structure by June 7. The deadline expired without a consensus developing between the government and the YDA on the issue. From June 18, the YDA started its province-wide strike.
Many believe that going on strike was a mistake on the part of the YDA. That may be true, but in my opinion, the Punjab government committed an even bigger mistake by starting a crackdown on doctors on July 1. I have been reporting on this issue from day one, and I know that by July 1, the YDA, Punjab had divided into two groups. Its members from south Punjab weren’t willing to continue with the strike and same was the case with the members from Gujranwala. Had the government not arrested the doctors, the situation would have fizzled out and the strike would have failed. The government’s crackdown, however, united the entire medical community.
The problem is that every time the YDA came on the roads to protest, their demands were accepted, which made it believe that they only had to come out on the roads and their problems will be solved. Had the government avoided acceding to the YDA demands in this manner, things would have been different. And if the government hadn’t employed highhanded methods, the situation would have returned to normalcy. The raids on doctors’ hostels and their arrest gave the medical community the higher moral ground to continue with their strike, which has worsened the situation.
Every day, numerous Pakistani doctors are hired by Middle Eastern countries. This trend has to be halted but this will never happen if the government insists on registering criminal cases against doctors. The government needs to handle such situations in an appropriate manner. It needs to learn to do backdoor negotiations to win the doctors to its side if it really wants to improve the healthcare system. Doctors, too, need to understand that they shouldn’t be led by those who believe in indulging in hooliganism in order to achieve their ends.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2012.
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