Healthcare crisis: Punjab scrambles to control situation

Published: July 3, 2012
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Army doctors tending to patients at government-run hospitals. PHOTO: INI

Army doctors tending to patients at government-run hospitals. PHOTO: INI

LAHORE: 

Now that the Punjab government has decided to take the path of union-busting against the striking doctors in public hospitals, it has a huge task ahead of it – as evidenced by Monday’s developments.

The Punjab government made frantic efforts to restore some semblance of normalcy amidst the chaos at state-run hospitals – but not before the stand-off between the government and the protesting medics from the Young Doctors Association (YDA) threatened to spread to other provinces.

Police detained dozens of medics from the YDA in late-night raids on Sunday and again on Monday after intermediaries failed to win over the doctors who have been on strike for over two weeks now.

However, the move had its repercussions – which reverberated across the country. Incensed by the crackdown in Punjab, doctors in Sindh, Balochistan and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa also boycotted OPDs in state-run hospitals, and have threatened to go on strike if their detained peers in Punjab were not released.

In Lahore, Out-Patient Departments (OPDs) at most public hospitals reopened after a two-week hiatus. Hundreds of new medics joined the health department on Monday – half of them were assigned Lahore’s hospitals. In addition to that, 150 doctors from Pakistan Army also joined duties – more than half of them in the provincial capital.

Authorities also invoked the Essential Services Act 1958 and fired 27 young doctors for not reporting for duty. Another 360 medics were detained under the 16 Maintenance of Public Order (MPO) law. The government has decided to get tough with the protesting doctors and find replacements to make up for the shortage caused by the YDA strike.

Deaths

As expected, accusations of negligence-related deaths began to pour in on Monday.

At Lahore’s Mayo Hospital, doctors confirmed that three patients, namely Ulfat Bibi, Muhammad Malik and Muhammd Nazir, died. However, they stressed that they died natural deaths and that they were not caused by the YDA strike.

Separately, a court remanded four YDA officials into police custody for four days on charges of criminal negligence. Dr Matloob, President YDA Mayo Hospital, Dr Usmanul Haq, Joint Secretary YDA Punjab, Dr Tajamal Butt, General Secretary YDA Mayo Hospital and their fourth associate are accused of removing a drip from an infant at Mayo Hospital who died subsequently.

In the textile city of Faisalabad, health authorities worked on war footing to make up for the shortage of doctors at Allied and Divisional Headquarters hospitals and Faisalabad Institute of Cardiology.

“Around 100 lady doctors recruited through the Punjab Public Service Commission have been posted at Faisalabad hospitals. Of these, 17 lady doctors have taken over the charge,” Dr Abdur Rauf, the executive district officer health, told journalists.

A seriously-ill man, Muhammad Asghar, died at the District Headquarters Hospital purportedly waiting for medics to attend to him. With the latest death, the number of people died “due to the doctors’ strike” has risen to seven, according to Dr Rauf.

In Rawalpindi’s District Headquarters Hospital, a teenager died of fever allegedly because no medic was available to attend to him.

Muhammad Jahangir, 13, was brought to the hospital with fever symptoms, according to his mother. “She literally begged the medics to attend to her ailing son, but to no avail,” the attendant of another patient told the media.

After the teenager’s death, the family staged a vociferous protest outside the hospital against the administration. Interestingly, local lawmaker Malik Shakeel Awan exonerated the medics of negligence charge and instead faulted the family.

In a related development, Principal of the Rawalpindi Medical College Dr Mussadaq Khan said summer vacations of all teaching staff have been cancelled and they have directed to report on duty at three hospitals of the city.

Sindh

Medics in Sindh gave the Punjab government until Tuesday to release all detained doctors or else they would also go on strike.

“The governments of Punjab and Sindh will be responsible for any deaths as a result of our strike,” Dr Samrina Hashmi, the president of the Pakistan Medical Association, Sindh chapter, told a news conference.

Doctors in most state-run hospitals of the province wore black armbands to express solidarity with their colleagues in Punjab.

PMA official Dr Mirza Ali Azhar endorsed the YDA demands and faulted the Punjab government for the Sunday night crackdown on medics. “Their (YDA)’s method may be wrong, but their demands are not,” he added.

Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa

In Peshawar, too, doctors supported their colleagues in Punjab. The YDA, Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa chapter, threatened to boycott OPDs in all state-run hospitals to express solidarity with their peers.

“We will boycott OPDs in all major hospitals of the province to press the government to release all detained doctors and accept their demands,” Dr Haider Shah, the provincial spokesperson for the YDA, told The Express Tribune.

Balochistan

The YDA, Balochistan chapter, boycotted OPDs in all state-run health facilities of Quetta. The Express Tribune correspondent saw long queues of patients at the OPDs of major health facilities, including Helper’s Hospital, Bolan Medical College Teaching Hospital, Fatima Jinnah TB Sanatorium and Sandeman Hospital.

YDA official Dr Shahzada came down hard on the Punjab government for “using force against young doctors”. He endorsed the demands of the YDA Punjab and called on the government to accept the demands.

Gilgit-Baltistan

In Gilgit-Baltistan, doctors decided to observe a two-hour strike daily from Tuesday (today). “We stand by our colleagues in distress in Lahore and other parts of Punjab,” Ejaz Ali, President of the G-B chapter of Pakistan Medical Association, told The Express Tribune.

(Read: Protesting doctors)

(MUDASSIR RAJA in Rawalpindi, SEHRISH WASIF in Islamabad, SAMIA MALIK in Karachi, SHABBIR MIR in Gilgit and our correspondents in Faisalabad and Quetta)

Published in The Express Tribune, July 3rd, 2012. 

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Reader Comments (17)

  • Jibran
    Jul 3, 2012 - 4:56AM

    Photo-ops, Propaganda, with no substance! Dictator-e-Aala just provided the best opportunity to the khakis for their propaganda.

    Recommend

  • Khan of Cape Town
    Jul 3, 2012 - 5:08AM

    Not supporting YDA, but look who is talking about the healthcare issue. This Khadim-e-Aala was responsible for the deaths of hundreds due to wrong medicine given to heart patients. He was holding the Health Minister post at that time. People have not forgotten the Dangue virus mishandling either.

    Recommend

  • Amjad
    Jul 3, 2012 - 6:02AM

    I fully support the Punjab government as it deals with these young miscreants. They should be forced to surrender their medical degrees and pay back the nation for their subsidized medical education. The CM should not give in to blackmail under any circumstances.

    Recommend

  • Asif Ahmad
    Jul 3, 2012 - 6:36AM

    Why it is always Punjab government mired in health department issues? I think there is some management issue that government is not handling properly. Is Shahbaz also leading this department as a sole proprietor?

    Recommend

  • Jibran
    Jul 3, 2012 - 6:46AM

    Why generals have their medicals in the country and the Dictator-e-Aala goes to London? One reason… the former hire the good doctors, and pay them well. Dictator-e-Aala on the other hand wants to retain doctors with the salary of a “compounder”. He is least interested in the welfare of the people, his “notanky” is fully exposed.

    Recommend

  • Shayan
    Jul 3, 2012 - 7:10AM

    PMLN has always been anti-uniom and pro businessman as that is what they mostly are. I fail to see the point when these young docs are replaced by Army doc that are not inly paid much more but also receive a house among other perks

    Recommend

  • Awans
    Jul 3, 2012 - 7:53AM

    Most of the YDA members are in PTI and New Worked Out Strategy of PTI includes a Malign campaign against Punjab government. My friend is In PTI and last night senior officials and YDA hava a meeting and PTI media cell now have decided to fully support YDA and to malign Shahbaz Sharif and Punjab gov under orders from PTI officials. I dont like Shahbaz Sharif but i hate another entrant in Punjab who is on a Personal Enmity mission and from Load Shedding to Doctors strikes Imran Khan’s role is very suspicious in every manner.

    Recommend

  • Omer
    Jul 3, 2012 - 8:09AM

    Most of these YDA would have voted for the Shariffs. Now they are paying the price for their bad decision.

    Recommend

  • let there be peace
    Jul 3, 2012 - 9:20AM

    Similar strikes used to happen in India. Very similar media and politician/bureaucracy tactics, except for the drama of army and detentions. Basically it is a mistake of YDA going on half hearted symbolic strike. They don’t have guts to go on all out strike, don’t understand politics, so other people will take advantage. It seems they only boycotted OPDs and working in wards etc which is the main bulk of work, so the work really does not get affected much. They still do all work, take curses, and few army doctors in uniform get to pose for photos without doing any special work. If their status is of just contract workers working long hours on small salary and without any security and benefits, then they have right to leave work anytime just like a domestic help or labourers.
    Also they should talk to organisations of nurses and other lower level staff. They have real power. If their organisations even threatens to go on strike, government will be on their knees in one or two days.

    Recommend

  • Saima Jabeen
    Jul 3, 2012 - 10:48AM

    I appreciate Shehbaz Sharif for handling the situation in good manner. Great work.

    Recommend

  • Gul Muhammad
    Jul 3, 2012 - 11:15AM

    It is very un-civilized way of strike. There should be no mercy for these cruel doctors. Shehbaz Sharif took right steps timely for the resolution of the issue. These greedy and cruel doctors should be severely punished.

    Recommend

  • Shoaib Multani
    Jul 3, 2012 - 11:26AM

    We salute Shehbaz Sharif for appropriately handling the situation. Young doctors on strike should be punished.

    Recommend

  • substance.p
    Jul 3, 2012 - 2:08PM

    in the past 20 years there have been strikes by medical doctors in Australia, Belgium, Canada, Chile, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, India, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Korea, Malta, Peru, Serbia, Spain, Sri Lanka, Romania, USA, UK, Zambia, and Zimbabwe to name but a few.
    pakistan is now also included
    ps its all of you who r responsible for the strike as in past no one paid attention to the issue

    Recommend

  • Anonymous
    Jul 3, 2012 - 2:22PM

    Being ordinary citizen of Pakistan I urge senior doctors to avoid unfair play as the young doctor did; don’t abuse your power otherwise it would be hard to stop masses (VICTIM OF YOUR CRUEL PORTEST) to take unfair steps against you in the streets and I am afraid if the situation contains it would be impossible for you come out from your homes.
    DON’T TEST THE NERVES OF MASSESRecommend

  • Expatriate doctor.
    Jul 3, 2012 - 5:30PM

    @Shoaib Multani:
    Dear multani Just tell me how many Govt. Hospital have been opened in Multan after Nishter hospital since 1956 in FIFTEY SIX YEARS as compared to Lahore. Every thing included health services is concentrated in TAKHT LAHORE. O Kay keep on saluting him if you wish prostrate to him. Make yourself happy. Some young doctors are raising there voice for their overdue rights and register FIRs against them and closes his eyes form Dengue, spurious drugs for heart patients, etc. If you are still happy keep on saluting him.
    Do you know how many doctors have left for abroad and how many are in pipeline?
    I tell you one more thing you don’t know and this will make many things clear to you.
    “Govt of Pakistan refused to give clearance to doctors recruited for Saudia. Saudi Govt pressurized to Pak Govt and threatened that they will not come again for future selections. Result: Govt of pak scummed and there is free flow of doctors from Pak to saudia.”
    Conclusion: Fear from the results of this Appropriate handling faced by you poor public.Recommend

  • Danyal
    Jul 3, 2012 - 7:56PM

    Why generals have their medicals in the country and the Dictator-e-Aala goes to London? One reason… the former hire the good doctors, and pay them well. Dictator-e-Aala on the other hand wants to retain doctors with the salary of a “compounder”. He is least interested in the welfare of the people; Since Shehbaz Sharif took charge of this department, rather than any improvement its situation is getting bad and from bad to worse. A chief minister even can not run a single department how can he run the entire province. The current situation of doctors in Punjab speaks the volume of good governance Recommend

  • SAHIR
    Jul 4, 2012 - 12:11PM

    I discourages punjab government for treating DOCTORS AS CRIMINALS.instead of considering upon their demands which are absolutely authentic SHAHBAZ SHARIF is taking it as campaing.the miscerable fact is that NOT A SINGLE PERSON from public is with doctors to whom they serve day and night . IS THIS NOT AGAINST HUMANITY.

    Recommend

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