LAHORE: The Punjab government has decided to fire and blacklist members of the Punjab chapter of Young Doctors Association (YDA), who have been on strike for the last two weeks, it has been learnt on good authority.
Under the provincial government’s strategy to deal with the situation, a heavy contingent of the Lahore police conducted a raid at the YDA general council meeting at the hostel of the Services Hospital late on Sunday night and arrested more than 25 young doctors and staffers. They were shifted to lock-ups at different police stations for further legal action. However, no case was registered till the filing of the report.
The police led by senior police officials including SP Imtiaz Sarwar, SP Awais Malik, SP Omar Saeed and SP Multan Khan conducted the raid at hostels of the Services Hospital. The doctors closed the doors of their hostel rooms and some of them managed to flee, using the back doors. However, police teams cordoned off the hostels, broke open the doors and held over 25 young doctors. YDA Punjab President Hamid Butt and YDA PIC Chapter President Dr Amir Bandesha were also arrested.
Over 200 policemen of the Shadman, Ghalib Market, Civil Lines, Gulberg and Racecourse police stations took part in the crackdown. DIG Operations Rai Tahir monitored the operation at his office and later visited Services Hospital. He told reporters that the emergency departments of teaching hospitals and indoor wards would be made operational through senior doctors from Monday.
Police sources said initially the arrested doctors would be kept in custody under the Maintenance of Public Order (PMO) for a period of one month, which could be prolonged to three months. Later, criminal cases would be registered against them on the complaints of patients and attendants, who suffered due to the doctors’ strike. A police officer said the arrested doctors have also been suspended by the health department.
After the raid, the young doctors closed the emergency department and doors of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) in protest. However, a large number of citizens appreciated the police action and demanded stern legal action against negligent doctors. Police also sought the help of the media so that black sheep in the health department could not tarnish the image of a sacred profession again.
Sources told The News that the Punjab Health Department, with the full mandate of Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif, has prepared a list of up to 50 young doctors with “criminal records”, who would be dismissed from service for instigating young doctors to observe a strike in government hospitals. Besides, the sources added, this list of young doctors would be sent to the General Medical Council (GMC), British College of Physicians, UK, embassies of America, Europe and Middle East countries, Federal Public Service Commission and Punjab Public Service Commission, College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan as well as other departments concerned with the recommendation not to offer any jobs to them.
Meanwhile, a total of 150 doctors from the Pakistan Army, requisitioned by the Punjab government, would start working in different hospitals of Punjab from Monday (today) to counter the strike and ensure provision of treatment facilities to the patients. These doctors started reaching hospitals in Punjab on Sunday as, according to the schedule, 15 doctors would perform their duties in each hospital.
Besides, 454 women medical officers, who have been recruited through the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC), will also take charge in different hospitals in the province. The Punjab Health Department has also decided to give appointment letters to at least 1,000 doctors awaiting postings in hospitals.
The provincial government has also taken oath from the newly-appointed doctors to never to observe any strike and warned that if they will ever become part of any strike, their jobs will be terminated forthwith.
Furthermore, the Health Department has ordered senior doctors to perform their duties at outdoor wards of the hospitals. The senior doctors have expressed their willingness to serve at outdoor wards from Monday (today). The Punjab government has also decided to provide proper security to the doctors serving the patients in hospitals and deal with the troublemaking members of the YDA Punjab with an iron hand.
Meanwhile, the negotiations between senior doctors and the protesting young doctors collapsed as the provincial chapter of the YDA refused to call off their strike after the former failed to give any assurance to the latter vis-a-vis implementation of the proposed service structure for doctors in the province. The Punjab Health Department asked the YDA Punjab to call off their strike unconditionally, which was unacceptable for them.
However, young doctors have put forth three conditions to end the strike and desired Punjab Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif to fulfil their conditions for the smooth functioning of hospitals in future. The demands include appointment of medical officers directly in grade 18, fixing stipends of post-graduate trainees equal to that of medical officers and enhancing health professional allowance and making it equal to the basic pay.
When contacted, YDA Punjab spokesman Dr Aftab Ashraf told The News that they had not withdrawn their demands about the issuance of notification of service structure, though they have shown a willingness to negotiate the financial impact of the service structure, which might be given in phases during a period of up to five years. He said the YDA Punjab would also lay siege to the Chief Minister’s House on July 5.
He said the YDA Punjab would continue its strike at outdoor wards of hospitals in Punjab till the fulfilment of their demand of service structure, adding that they would be forced to shut the service at indoor wards and emergency wards if the government tried to arrest or terminate the young doctors.
Meanwhile, it may be mentioned that the normal functioning of the health services was witnessed in teaching hospitals of Lahore as OPDs observed Sunday as the weekly holiday in Punjab. Therefore, in the absence of YDA activists’ conspicuous presence, there was no interruption observed at indoor wards or emergency wards of the hospitals. However, despite Sunday being a holiday, OPDs of some of the public sector hospitals outside Lahore were opened and patients were provided treatment facilities in Rawalpindi.
Meanwhile, Pakistan Muslim League-N leader, Senator Pervaiz Rashid has said salaries and incentives of young doctors in Punjab are higher than those working in other provinces. He said doctors have made it a practice to hold talks with the government at gunpoint, but this culture would not be tolerated at any cost.
According to a press release issued by the DGPR here on Sunday, Senator Pervaiz Rashid said doctors wanted to fight their war by holding patients hostage. He said talks would not be held with the doctors till calling off the strike by them. He said the provincial government had completed all arrangements and it would not let the routine of hospitals suffer in any case.