PESHAWAR: Doctors continued the boycott of their duties in the OPDs of hospitals of the province on Thursday as a deadlock with the government over the highhandedness of the provincial health minister continued.
The government, meanwhile, has told doctors to either toe the line or face the music.
Following the assault on Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH)’s Assistant Professor for Surgery Dr Ziauddin Afridi by Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Health Minister Dr Hisham Inamullah Khan and his guards after Dr Afridi allegedly hurled eggs at Lady Reading Hospital Board of Governors (BoG) Chairman Dr Nowsherwan Burki during a board meeting, health practitioners had boycotted their duties at hospitals.
On Thursday, those protests widened after doctors announced to lock down the private clinics and practices. Doctors were already boycotting the outpatient departments (OPD) at hospitals.
Members of the Young Doctors Association (YDA) gathered in the largest health facility of the province, the Lady Reading Hospital at around 10am and chanted slogans against the Health Minister Hisham and demanded his resignation. They also demanded the resignation of Dr Burki.
The association also denounced the departmental inquiry launched against senior doctors and demanded that the first information report (FIR) registered against doctors must be withdrawn. Further, they demanded that an FIR must be lodged against the health minister for brutally assaulting a senior doctor in the halls of KTH in broad daylight.
While addressing a gathering of protesting health workers, leaders of the doctors’ association stated that a transparent inquiry must be carried out in the matter while the BoG chairman should also be immediately removed from his post.
They also denounced the delaying tactics adopted by the provincial health minister and noted that despite declarations from the provincial minister, no parliamentary committee had been formed.
From now on, doctors said that they will not sit in any negotiation with any minister, less than the chief minister himself and announced they will continue their protest until their demands are met.
With the doctors not backing down, the provincial government resorted to threatening them on Thursday.
In a hurriedly called news conference, K-P Information Minister Shaukat Yousafzai said that the government will not give in to pressure tactics from the doctors association, adding that doctors will have to obey the transfer orders issued by the relevant ministry.
He went on to warn that any doctor who refuses to obey government directives, are involved in agitation, who stop or force other doctors from providing medical treatment to the public will face strict action.
The provincial information minister stated that Dr Afridi had hurled eggs at an elderly person due to some differences.
“This is not the tradition of this province,” Yousafzai said, adding that doctors are constitutionally protected to make demands or protest for their rights, however, a handful of doctors wanted to sabotage the health reforms being brought in the province.
"Not all, but a few doctors are out to thwart reforms in the health sector by exploiting the recent incident and those doctors should end their protest by evening otherwise action would be taken against them," he warned.
“We have brought drastic reforms into the service structures of doctors, nurses and related staffers, we had 3,639 medical officers across the province but in the previous year alone we have hired over 8,801 medical officers and have increased the number of MOs by 5,000,” Yousafzai stated.
He further dilated on the efforts made by the government to revamp the health sector by increasing the number of dental surgeons by 56%, nursing staff by 50%, paramedics by 12%, lady health workers by 24% and a 39% overall human resource development in the sector.
Since the government has provided incentives to doctors and paramedics, there was no justification for their protests against the condition of working for two years in their respective districts.
The information minister deplored the incident of hurling eggs at a senior doctor and chairman of the LRH Board Dr Burki and the alleged attack on Health Minister Dr Hisham. He added that an inquiry has been ordered to investigate the incident.
He said the government urges doctors to end their protest immediately while warning of strict action if they failed to do so.
Curiously, while Yousafzai was accompanied by the K-P Health Secretary Dr Farooq Jameel, Dr Hisham was nowhere to be seen. A social media account professing to be part of Dr Hisham’s team and whose tweets have been re-tweeted by the provincial health minister in recent days, spent Thursday posting images of past inquiries launched against Dr Afridi and other disciplinary run-ins he has had with officials. The veracity of these images could not be immediately ascertained.
Kundi blames ‘Niazi mafia’
Former deputy speaker and Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) secretary general Faisal Kareem Kundi has blamed what he called the Niazi Mafia for ruining the health sector of the province in the name of reforms while snatching the right of agitation from the public.
Addressing a news conference in DI Khan on Thursday, he backed the doctors’ call for the resignation of Dr Hisham and Dr Burki.
“A public hospital has been vandalized through heavily armed guards of the health minister and to avenge the protest of doctors, the provincial health minister has attacked senior doctors through the government and private machinery,” Kundi added.
WITH ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM RAMZAN SEEMAB
Published in The Express Tribune, May 17th, 2019.