HYDERABAD: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has ordered the police and health authorities to complete within three weeks the investigation into a fire at a hospital's warehouse that destroyed medicine worth around Rs230 million.
Although some official sources kept alluding that the fire on May 7 at Liaquat University hospital in Jamshoro district was an act of arson, health authorities delayed initiating any criminal investigation.
A two-judge bench, comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Fahim Ahmed Siddiqi, heard the case on Wednesday. Health Secretary Dr Fazlullah Pechuho informed the court that he will write to the Jamshoro district SSP regarding the lodging of an FIR against the delinquent officers.
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The SHC observed that the medicines, which were destroyed in the fire, were supposed to be provided free-of-cost to patients at the government hospital, which is located in the premises of Liaquat University of Medical and Health Sciences. "Every single delinquent regardless of his status should receive his due," the court ordered.
"... an inquiry was ordered by the health secretary and as per [the] inquiry this was not [an] accidental [fire]," the court noted. The health authorities had initially claimed that the fire erupted due to a short circuit. The departmental inquiry also found expired medicines worth around Rs10 million lying in the adjoining rooms of the burnt warehouse.
"Such negligence is not simple [ordinary] because these medicines may have been used to cure or treat poor," the court said.
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Fire officer Ali Sher Kaka, whose team doused the blaze, had told the media on the day of the incident that the warehouse's iron-grilled gates were padlocked, which delayed fire fighting inside the ground floor structure. The fire fighters had to break a wall of the building to enter it.
Hyderabad SSP Amjad Ahmed Shaikh has been assigned the responsibility of investigating the incident.
The bench also ordered the Sindh government to constitute a committee to implement the SHC's judgment with regard to the handover of teaching hospitals to medical universities. The health secretary apprised the court that the matter concerned two departments of the provincial government, one of which is headed by him and the other by Boards and Universities Secretary Dr Navid Shaikh.
The committee, according to the order, will consist of the secretaries of health, boards and universities, law and forests, as well as vice-chancellors of medical universities, the Healthcare Commission chairperson, health director-general and National Institute of Cardio Vascular Diseases executive director. The court gave three months to the committee to devise a mechanism to handover the hospitals to the universities.
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The committee has also been tasked with examining the proposed bill to establish the teaching health management board and service rules for employees of the health department.
The court will resume hearing of the matter on October 11.
The SHC was informed that after introduction of the biometric attendance system, the health department found some 1,600 ghost employees in the province. The court ordered the Sindh accountant-general to examine the list of such employees and recover the amount they drew as salaries during the period of their absence.
The health secretary informed the court that the existing tertiary, secondary and primary healthcare facilities in the province were built before the latest population census. The health department has formed committees to examine the post-census population figures of the areas in Sindh and suggest upgrade of the hospitals and health centres, Dr Pechuho said.
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With regard to the Health Management Organisations (HMOs) that are being handed over to private management by the government hospitals under public private partnership, the SHC ordered that five-year experience of the hospital management, reputation and credentials should be criteria for the purpose.
On a judges' inquiry, the health secretary replied that the department has stopped charging parking fee inside some government hospitals.
Dr Pechuho acknowledged that private restaurants and medical stores were operating 'illegally' in the premises of public sector hospitals. However, since the matter is pending in the apex court, the health department cannot take action against these businesses, he said.
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