Sensing the government’s willingness to negotiate, the Young Doctors Association (YDA) wants it to do more than just withdraw transfer orders of more than 400 doctors.
The government’s efforts to appease the doctors included withdrawal, on Tuesday, of a harassment FIR registered by a Gujrat hospital medical superintendant (MS) against two Gujrat YDA office bearers. The settlement between the MS and the doctors was negotiated by the district coordination officer.
No meeting took place between the Health Department and the association on Tuesday. Representatives from both parties had met late on Monday night but without any results.
A senior Health Department official, who was part of the negotiations, told The Express Tribune that the department had been ready to withdraw the transfer orders. However, he said, the YDA representatives had said that they also wanted the government to reorganise the service structure. That, according to the official, will take at least a year “and they want us to do it in a few days”. The official would not say by when the government hoped to persuade the doctors to call off the strike. “We are trying to resolve the issue,” he said.
Dr Khuzema Arslan Bohkari, a member of YDA-Punjab, told The Tribune that the officials had told them that discussing the service structure was not part of their mandate. “We made it clear from the beginning that we were not just opposed to the transfers but also wanted the service structure to be reorganised,” she said.
Bokhari said that the government had promised a new service structure, in 2011, after a 37-day strike by the doctors “but nothing has been done so far”. “We are only demanding that the health secretary or another relevant official announce that a new service structure will be devised within days, not months,” the YDA-Punjab members said. Bokhari said the official had told them restructuring would take a year. “Our strike won’t be called off till then,” she said.
Out-Patient Departments (OPDs), meanwhile, remained closed across the province on Tuesday. Patients and their families who had come to Lahore from other cities condemned the strike. “The doctors aren’t even attending to patients who have come from far-flung areas,” said Mohammad Ishaq, who had come to Mayo Hospital from Sialkot.
Doctors on duty at emergencies complained about being overburdened. “A lot of OPD patients are coming to us. It’s really difficult to attend to them in addition to those in need of emergency care. There is no extra staff here,” a doctor at the Mayo Hospital Emergency said.
While YDA spokesperson Dr Nasir Bokhari claimed that young doctors were helping out in emergency wards, senior professors denied this. “There isn’t anybody from YDA to help us out,” a senior doctor at Services Hospital said.
FIR withdrawn in Gujrat
Two Gujrat YDA office bearers were released from police custody and an FIR against them and five others – including the YDA Punjab president Hamid Butt – was withdrawn following a settlement negotiated by the district coordination officer.
The Gujrat chapter boycotted work on Tuesday morning following an argument with Aziz Bhatti Hospital Medical Superintendent (MS) Tahir Naveed over the arrests of YDA’s Gujrat president Saud Afzal and vice president Shiraz Malik.
Punjab president Butt was among those who staged a sit-in in front of Dr Naveed’s office and refused to let him leave until the two doctors were released. The sit-in ended when the DCO assured the demonstrators that the two doctors would be released.
Dr Naveed had earlier told police that Afzal, Malik and some others had been giving him death threats over the transfer of two paramedics from one ward of the hospital to another. In the FIR, he had said, that the suspects had broken into and vandalised his office on Monday. According to the complaint, Butt had called the MS on his cell phone and asked him to suspend the transfer orders of the paramedics.
The paramedics, said Dr Naveed, had been transferred on Friday from a medical ward to an eye ward after they were accused of stealing medicines. They had denied the allegations.
DCO Nawazish Ali told The Express Tribune that the FIR had been taken back “in the interest of the patients”. Dr Naveed said he had forgiven the doctors.
-WITH ADDITIONAL REPORTING FROM SHAHID MUNEER IN GUJRANWALA
Published in The Express Tribune, April 18th, 2012.