SHC puts chief secretary on notice over transfer of hospitals’ control to NGOs

Bench asks him to submit reasons and explain under what law this mechanism is provided

Z Ali July 05, 2019

HYDERABAD: The Sindh High Court (SHC) has taken up the matter of transfer of administrative control of government hospitals and health units to non-governmental organisations (NGOs). The SHC's Hyderabad circuit bench comprising Justice Salahuddin Panhwar and Justice Adnan Iqbal Chaudhry on Thursday put Sindh Chief Secretary Syed Mumtaz Ali Shah on notice over the issue.

"Sindh Chief Secretary shall submit reasons and explanation that under what law, rules or policy this mechanism is provided," the bench ordered, while hearing a petition of Muhammad Yaqoob over allegedly poor health services being provided at Taluka Hospital Pithoro, Umerkot district.

"It has surfaced that RHCs [rural health centres], BHUs [Basic Health Unit] and some Taluka Hospitals have been handed over to some NGOs," the court observed. The court also noted discrepancies in the hierarchy of the health department, pointing out that all the medical superintendents of the government hospitals are answerable to the health secretary.

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"... complete hierarchy is available in shape of health DHOs [district health officers] and DG [director-general] but they only have supervisory jurisdiction and have no concern with regard to budget, appointments, purchase of medicines, etc," the bench commented. "Prima facie, those directly responsible to supervise operational affairs of such institutions surprisingly have nothing to do with those components without which functioning can't be expected".

The SHC also ordered the chief secretary and health secretary to implement its August 18, 2017, and September 11, 2017, orders with regard to the functioning of government hospitals. The former asked the government to constitute district level committees for all government hospitals to conduct public hearings regarding the state of facilities in the hospitals and submit recommendations for improvements.

The latter pertained to transfer of the teaching hospitals to medical universities. "... with a note of caution that in case of failure, contempt proceedings would be initiated against them," the court warned.

The bench asked Health Deputy Secretary Ibrahim Memon to explain what measures have been taken to implement the SHC's August, 2017, order. However, the official expressed unawareness about the order as well as a subsequent health department's notification dated September 14, 2017, for formation of the committees.

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"He is unaware with regard to subsequent progress and the terms of reference. An admission of ignorance ... on such a vital issue directly relating to life is not worth appreciation," the court observed. The bench ordered the chief secretary to submit a detailed report about the steps taken for implementation of September 14, 2017, notification and the August, 2017, order.

Earlier, while hearing the petition about Taluka Hospital Pithoro, the SHC asked Sindh chief secretary to fill 50% of the vacant positions in that hospital within 15 days as a temporary arrangement until all the vacancies can be filled. Dr Muhammad Yousuf, Medical Superintendent of the hospital, told the court that out of 39 posts of doctors only nine doctors were working in the hospital.

He added that the hospital also lacked a surgeon while an ECG machine is lying idle because neither the technician is available nor the doctors. The court warned the provincial government that if its orders are not complied with, the SHC will be compelled to refer the matter of audit of Sindh health department's expenditures during last 12 years to Accountant-General of Pakistan. The petition was adjourned till July 18.

Published in The Express Tribune, July 5th, 2019.


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