Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif will have a tricky decision to make soon regarding the pay of doctors at Shaikh Zayed Hospital (SZH), where medical officers make almost twice as much as their counterparts in other public hospitals in the Punjab.
Control of the hospital was recently transferred from the federal to the provincial government as part of a deal between the PPP and PML-N to pass the 20th Amendment in the National Assembly.
While doctors employed at hospitals controlled by the provincial government got a raise last year, their salaries are far below those of doctors employed at federal government hospitals. Hence a medical officer at SZH makes around Rs80,000 a month, while her counterpart at Mayo Hospital makes around Rs42,000 a month.
“The salary matter is quite problematic, as the Health Department cannot have two different salary packages at the same time,” said a department official. “The salaries of doctors at SZH could be reduced or the salaries of doctors elsewhere increased.”
However, he added that neither option was attractive. The doctors at SZH are unlikely to accept a pay cut, while the government does not have the finances to raise doctors’ salaries again. “A detailed summary will be sent to the chief minister and then a final decision will be made,” he said.
The hospital runs up an annual deficit of Rs200-220 million, he added, though it charges patients a lot more than other public hospitals in Lahore. “The parchi fee (patient registration fee) in other hospitals is zero or up to Rs 5; at SZH it is Rs 50. They charge for tests you can get for free at other hospitals,” he said.
SZH doctors said their salaries could not be reduced. Associate Prof Dr Muzamil Tahir, who is also general secretary of the Medical Teachers Association (MTA), said that the law protected the rights of employees transferred from the federal to the provincial government.
He said that the doctors’ salaries and service structure would stay the same and they would not be transferred away from SZH. “The Health Department will not be able to post any doctor to SZH unless the seat cannot be filled by a doctor already serving at SZH,” he said.
Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Punjab President Dr Ashraf Nizami said that the association would oppose any move to reduce salaries. “We met with SZH doctors and assured them of our support. We are also meeting on Sunday to decide our strategy regarding pay raises for doctors serving at other public hospitals in the Punjab,” he said.
Young Doctors Association (YDA) General Secretary Dr Salman Kazmi said that the Punjab government should raise the salaries of doctors. “Our doctors are leaving for Saudi Arabia and other countries for higher salaries. Hospitals cannot be run without doctors. The government should think about that,” he said.
PMA Sindh President Dr Samreena Hashmi said that the Sindh government had faced a similar situation when the Jinnah Post-Graduate Medical Complex (JPMC) was transferred from the federal to the provincial government. “Doctors there are drawing the same salaries as before,” she said.
SZH Chairman Dr Zafar Iqbal said that they were in talks with the Punjab government. “We will have a detailed discussion about this in our next meeting,” he said.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 25th, 2012.
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