The strike by members of the Young Doctor’s Association (YDA) has now continued for over a month. The failure on the part of the Punjab government to sort out the matter has already resulted in the death of 22 patients in public sector hospitals. The suffering of many others continues as the administration in the province breathes out fire following the collapse of talks. Over 60 doctors have been dismissed from service, notices issued to others and comments made that meeting the YDA demand for a substantial raise in salary would mean that many development works, such as road construction, would need to be halted.
At present, junior doctors in the federal cadre get paid Rs 10,500 more than their provincial counterparts. The crisis created by the strike continues, with doctors in Sindh, Balochistan and the federal capital warning that they would join their colleagues in the Punjab. Opinions on the issue are becoming more and more sharply divided. Questions of ethics have been raised, with some senior doctors terming the YDA a body out to make trouble. The responsibilities and humanitarianism demanded of doctors also raises the question of whether walking away from patients who need care is a legitimate means to press for demands. We would expect better from the doctors — though it must be said they had made some effort to offer care to those admitted to hospitals in the early days of the strike.
The biggest problem appears to be the approach taken by the government. While both sides need to show flexibility, it is a primary duty of the government to resolve the issue. Healthcare for people is far more important than building roads. The typically unbowing stance taken by the Shahbaz Sharif administration has created anarchy. The presence of dozens of policemen at hospitals — in readiness for any clash with the doctors — is not a pleasant sight. What is vital now is to end the state of confrontation and work out a formula that can take medics off the streets and place them back in the wards where their services are urgently needed by the sick.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 6th, 2011.