Public health: Doctors call off strike as govt withholds transfers

Young Doctors Association

LAHORE: The Young Doctors Association (YDA) called off its strike at outpatient departments in public hospitals on Thursday after the Punjab government agreed to withdraw the transfer of 450 doctors that had sparked the doctors’ boycott.

In talks at the Chief Minister’s Secretariat, the two sides agreed that representatives of the Punjab government and the YDA Punjab would meet from Friday to review the transfers and develop a policy on transfers and postings of doctors, said a participant in the talks.“We will sit with the Punjab government and point out where merit wasn’t followed in the transfers. We are not opposed to transfers on merit,” said YDA Punjab core member Dr Khuzema Arslan Bokhari, who was part of the negotiations.

Law Minister Rana Sanaullah led the talks on the government side, which included Health Secretary Captain (retired) Arif Nadeem and Chief Minister’s Adviser on Health Khawaja Salman Rafique. An official privy to the developments told The Express Tribune that PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif had sent Law Minister Rana Sanaullah to the negotiations from Raiwind with special instructions. The health secretary and adviser had led previous talks. “Last time also when the strike continued for 37 days in Punjab, Rana Sanaullah negotiated on the government’s behalf,” he added.

Service structure

The chief minister will also announce, within five days, a committee of senior politicians, the health, finance and regulations secretaries, members of YDA Punjab and other stakeholders to come up with recommendations on a service structure for doctors. The committee will have four weeks to finalise the recommendations.YDA officials had said during their weeklong strike that their protest was not just about the transfer orders, but also about the government’s failure to come up with a suitable service structure.

Several senior doctors told The Tribune that in view of their claims about the motive for the protest, the YDA officials’ willingness to call off the strike merely in exchange for the withholding of the transfers was illustrative.“It’s clear that the YDA was fighting just for the transfers to be withdrawn. The government hasn’t made any policy statement on the service structure issue. Many committees have been made before but the issue hasn’t been resolved for six decades,” said one doctor.

Another described it as a “face-saving” deal for both sides.

Rafique, the CM’s adviser on health, said that he was relieved that doctors would go back to work on Friday. “Patients shouldn’t be the one to suffer,” he said.On Thursday, police contingents were deployed outside OPDs in public hospitals in Punjab. A YDA member said that instead of sending two or three doctors to shut down wards, the association had to send 20 to 25 to shut wards on Thursday. No doctors were arrested, he said.

301 new doctors

In a press release issued after the end of negotiations, a Health Department spokesman said that 301 of the 691 new doctors hired by the Punjab Public Service Commission had been posted to teaching hospitals in Lahore, and 199 of them had joined their duties.The spokesman said that 52 doctors had begun their jobs at Mayo Hospital, 54 at Services Hospital, 43 at Jinnah Hospital, eight at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, 17 at Lahore General Hospital, 15 at Children’s Hospital and 10 at the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC).

These doctors had examined 2,822 patients on Thursday, he said. He added that the hospital administrations had made special arrangements in emergency wards to ensure the provision of treatment to patients visiting the outdoor department but finding it closed due to the strike.

Other districts

Meanwhile elsewhere in the Punjab, the strike was a flop.
YDA Punjab President Dr Hamid Butt was in Bahawalpur to shore up support for the strike on Thursday, a day after the OPD at Victoria Hospital opened and a group of doctors calling themselves the YDA South Punjab called for an end to the boycott. The outpatient ward remained open on Thursday and some 2,500 patients were treated, said hospital administrators.

Dr Butt said that the hospital’s administration had divided the doctors by setting up the YDA South Punjab. He alleged that the medical superintendent and the principal of Quaid-i-Azam Medical College had sent armed men to the hospital to intimidate the doctors. The medical superintendent and the principal denied the allegations.Meanwhile in Gujrat, the OPD at the Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Hospital also remained open for a second day. “I examined some 65 patients in the OPD at Aziz Bhatti Shaheed Hospital where there wasn’t any strike on Thursday,” said Dr Azhar Chaudhry. – Thetribune