LAHORE: While the alleged negligence of striking doctors claimed the lives of 11 patients in hospitals across Punjab, there were no signs of a thaw between the Young Doctors Association (YDA) and provincial authorities. Meanwhile, OPD services in Punjab were partly restored following the assumption of duties by doctors belonging to the Army Medical Corps while the Pakistan Army also announced that there would be double shifts in hospitals in the cantonment areas.
Police raids on the doctors’ hostel at the Services Hospital Lahore and the arrest of over two dozen YDA members aggravated the situation further. However, the Punjab health department insisted that the situation in government hospitals was fully under control and patients were being provided medical care round-the-clock.
At least four patients died in Lahore alone while doctors remained engaged in staging a strike against the government. An FIR was immediately lodged against eight doctors in this regard. According to details, Rizwan, 55, a resident of Bilal Ganj, Tariq, 50, a resident of Badami Bagh, a woman from Begum Kot and another unidentified patient died due to denial of treatment facilities at Mayo Hospital, as alleged by the family members of the deceased patients.
Meanwhile, a senior registrar of Sir Ganga Ram Hospital, Dr Muhammad Naeem, is currently on oxygen support in the Jinnah Hospital ICU after he suffered a heart attack allegedly at the hands of police torture during the crackdown that took place late on Sunday night.
In Faisalabad, meanwhile, four patients – including a young girl – died at the Allied Hospital as doctors continued to strike despite the Punjab government’s warning of stern disciplinary action. Sources told The News that the bodies of three patients who had died in the hospital had been shifted from the rear gate of the hospital in the wee hours of the morning as well.
A heavy police contingent also raided the residence of Allied Hospital YDA President Dr Maruf Vaince, who could not be arrested. A senior doctor performing his duty in the Allied Hospital Emergency Ward categorically denied the death of four people in the hospital. He said that only a cancer patient, Muhammad Hanif, had expired on Monday.
He said that five to six patients died daily at Allied Hospital Emergency Ward, and denied that four patients had died due to doctors’ negligence.
Meanwhile, the Punjab Medical College was closed for an indefinite period on the orders of the Punjab government, while students were directed to vacate the hostels. When contacted, DHQ Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Arif Ali said that senior doctors and PMC teachers had been directed to examine the patients at emergency and outdoor wards.
Meanwhile, Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah warned doctors of stricter action and announced that 2,000 more doctors were being hired through the Punjab Public Service Commission, in addition to the deputation of Army doctors in hospitals.
However, Mayo Hospital Medical Superintendent Dr Zahid Pervaiz denied that any patient had died due to unavailability of treatment facilities in hospitals, claiming that all patients had died due to natural causes. He claimed that actually the casualty rate was less than normal, as only nine patients had died on Monday against the average rate of 15 to 20 deaths daily.
He further informed reporters that the Mayo Hospital administration had successfully managed functioning its emergency, indoor and outdoor wards of the hospital with the help of military doctors, doctors from Social Security Hospitals and teaching hospitals in DG Khan and Rahim Yar Khan, as well as those recruited through the Punjab Public Service Commission.
Elsewhere, Judicial Magistrate Naqeeb Shahzad Monday granted a four-day physical remand of four doctors including Matloob, Usmanul Haq, Tajamul Butt and Adil, charging them with criminal negligence and for allegedly removing the drip of a child therein causing his death. On Monday, Gowalmandi police produced the accused before the court and sought their 10-day physical remand. However, the court granted four-day physical remand of the accused, directing the police to produce them again on July 6 along with investigation reports.
According to case details, one Muhammad Afzal, the father of a one-and-a-half years old Fahd, registered an FIR in Gowalmandi police station under the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) Section-302. He stated that his son died due to the criminal negligence of doctors and cited Dr Tajamul, Dr Adil, Dr Matloob, Dr Usman, Dr Hannan, Dr Assad, and two other unidentified doctors. He said that doctors who were treating his son removed the drip and let him die just to join the YDA strike.
Meanwhile, several young doctors reportedly began resuming their duties after the health secretary’s final notice of dismissal from service for violating the Essential Services Act. It was also learnt that the Punjab police had assigned duties to its doctors to serve in the teaching hospitals of Lahore.
The Lahore General Hospital (LGH) administration on Monday stated that a total of eight women medical officers (WMOs) and 35 house officers had taken charge on Monday to provide treatment facilities to patients.
The Pakistan Army also agreed to send two cardiologists and two anaesthesia specialists on the request of the Punjab government, who are due to take charge in hospitals from today (Tuesday). Meanwhile, a total of 149 Army Medical Officers were posted in hospitals, including 90 in Lahore, 15 in Rawalpindi, 15 in Faisalabad, 15 in Multan and 14 in Gujranwala.
The YDA leadership, however, remained adamant and vowed to complete the withdrawal of services from emergency, indoor and outdoor wards until their detained colleagues were released and their demand for service structure fulfilled. “We want an unconditional apology from the Punjab government to the unjustified crackdown, arrests and terminations of doctors in order to sit across the table to negotiate vis-à-vis proposed service structure,” said YDA Punjab Spokesman Dr Aftab Ashraf in a statement issued on Monday.
Furthermore, the Pakistan Medical Association (PMA), Medical Teachers Association (MTA), Punjab Paramedical Alliance (PPA) and Pakistan Academy of Family Physicians (PAFP) also demanded the immediate release of detained doctors. “[The] PMA will observe a black day today (Tuesday) against the detention and torture of doctors by the police on behalf of the Punjab government,” said PMA General Secretary Dr Abrar Ashraf Ali.
However, the Pakistan Pharmacists Association (PPA) opposed the strike of young doctors and appealed to them to resume their duties in the interest of patients.
Agencies add: The Punjab government dismissed 24 and arrested as many as 50 doctors on Monday. The cases of the dismissed officials were sent to the PMDC, and the government also wrote to Gulf missions, asking them not to hire the blacklisted doctors. Punjab police also made some arrests under the Maintenance of Public Order Ordinance (MPO-16). The arrested, meanwhile, were shifted to Kot Lakhpat Jail. District Coordination Officer (DCO) Lahore Noorul Ameen revealed that the arrested doctors would be kept behind bars for at least a month.
On Monday, the YDA turned down the Punjab government’s demand to call-off the strike unconditionally and instead issued a call to broaden the strike. Speaking to reporters, YDA spokesman Dr Salman Kazmi said that five meetings had been held between the health department and YDA and PMA office bearers, but regretted that these talks had remained inconclusive. He reiterated the doctors’ demands for an improved service structure, other allowances and a raise in stipends for both house officers and postgraduate doctors.
In response to a question, the spokesman asserted that despite the Punjab government’s crackdown, doctors across the province would continue their struggle to achieve their rights.
While the government took action against the YDA and arrested several members, the organisation announced its intention of observing a black day to protest the arrest of their colleagues. Adviser to the Chief Minister on Health Suleman Rafiq told reporters that the government had been forced to take steps against the striking doctors, and that the YDA strike could very well endanger the lives of scores of patients.
Meanwhile, the Sindh Doctors Association Monday condemned the arrest of YDA members and announced that it too would observe a black day to express its solidarity with the YDA. Doctors of Jinnah Hospital Karachi observed a “Day of Mourning” against the unlawful arrest of young doctors in Lahore. Out Patient Departments (OPDs) and Operation Theatres (OTs) remained closed for two hours from midday to 02:00pm. Doctors in Sindh also demanded that the government immediately release the arrested doctors, and said they would protest against the action taken by the Punjab government by tying black ribbons around their arms. However, young doctors in Khushab, Okra and Chiniot remained on duty and did not participate in the strike.
On the call of the Young Doctors Association Quetta, health care providers in Balochistan also closed down public sector OPDs across the province, raising the demand for a revised service structure.
The non-availability of medical attention at OPDs caused a huge inconvenience to visiting patients who were left with no option but to go to nearby private clinics for treatment. The protesting doctors in Quetta said they would continue to strike until they were notified of a revised service structure.
Baloch Young Doctors Association President Dr Alam Mengal told a local TV channel that the young doctors of government hospitals would not perform their duties in OPDs, but would still be on duty in emergency wards and operation theatres.
However, the Balochistan health minister claimed that the Baloch Young Doctors Association was not a registered organisation, and insisted that it be registered through the PMA.
The Pakistan Medical Association (PMA) Monday lashed out at the Punjab government for not holding out an olive branch to protesting doctors and criticised it for calling in Army doctors instead of settling the matter with the YDA. PMA Secretary General Dr Mirza Ali Azhar told reporters, “We demand that Army doctors be sent back to their original duties and the Punjab government tender an unconditional apology for their brutal attack on doctors. After this cruel action another wave of immigration is imminent.”
According to the Punjab government’s spokesman, civilian patients would be welcomed at army hospitals as well. The spokesman added that DG Military Land and Cantonment General Tahir Mahsud issued orders to this effect to all cantonment-located army hospitals.
The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) Monday expressed its concern at the suffering heaped on the people as a result of the prolonged strike of doctors in Punjab, and requested that both sides stop their wrangling for the sake of patients.
The HRCP said that doctors were disrespecting their life-saving vows by pressing for demands that were utterly indefensible and had contributed to the loss of sympathy for them among the common people.
According to a statement released by the organisation, the HRCP said that while some of the protesting doctors’ demands may be justified, the ongoing wrangling was symptomatic of the anarchy of thought and practice in the country where neither side was willing to abandon its stance for sake of an amicable settlement.
The HRCP added it did not support the coercive tactics being employed by the Punjab government aimed at finding a solution. “Who can disagree with the need for discipline in service, but the government’s ham-handed methods to deal with protests have lowered its credit,” it said and added that the matter be resolved at the earliest. “The prevailing stalemate is also a reflection on the performance of that body and how the role and representative character of Pakistan Medical and Dental Council has been eroded also deserves to be examined. Ultimately, it is imperative that a high-powered commission is established to examine the affairs of public healthcare in Pakistan,” the statement stipulated.
Meanwhile, prominent social worker Abdul Sattar Edhi Monday said that the doctors’ strike in Punjab was against the ethics of the medical profession. In a statement, he said that a number of precious human lives had been lost due to the YDA strike and closure of OPDs and government hospital departments.
He appealed to the striking doctors not to endanger human lives by pressing their demands, and asked them to return to their hospitals immediately. He also advised the young doctors to adopt a peaceful approach in pushing for their genuine demands.