Tuesday December 05, 2023

‘We need basic equipment, dept upgrades, not surgical robots’

November 16, 2023
A representational image shows doctors performing an operation in an operation theatre. — Unsplash/File
A representational image shows doctors performing an operation in an operation theatre. — Unsplash/File

Hyderabad’s Liaquat University Hospital (LUH) wants the Sindh Health Department to allow them to use the funds earmarked to buy two robotic surgery systems worth Rs2.1 billion for basic equipment, including CT scan, MRI, X-ray and dialysis machines, and monitors, as well as for beds and for adding modern treatment facilities.

“We don’t want robots for surgery because we don’t have the trained staff and budget to operate them,” LUH Medical Superintendent Dr Shahid Junejo told The News on Wednesday. “What we need is basic equipment and machinery, including radiological equipment, dialysis machines, ventilators, defibrillators, beds and scores of other things that are needed at a tertiary-care hospital.”

The previous provincial government of the Pakistan Peoples Party had allocated Rs4.27 billion to purchase four robotic surgery machines, two of them for the LUH, and one each for Karachi’s Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre and the Gambat Institute of Medical Sciences.

Caretaker health minister Dr Saad Khalid Niaz, however, stopped the procurement of all four robotic surgery systems, arguing that these funds should be spent on providing basic facilities and services, including standby generators, diagnostic equipment, establishing intensive care units (ICUs) and spending more on primary healthcare in the province.

This led to a rift between him and interim chief minister Justice (retd) Maqbool Baqar because the latter believes the earmarked funds cannot be reappropriated and should be spent only to buy the robotic surgery systems as planned.

Dr Junejo wrote to the health secretary last week and asked him to allow them to use the funds amounting to Rs2.133432 billion allocated to buy two robotic surgery systems for upgrading various departments, including general surgery, trauma, casualty, ICU, high dependency unit and operation theatres.

The letter, a copy of which is available with The News, states that the LUH also needs funds to establish and upgrade the thalassaemia centre, the thoracic surgery department, the burns department, neurosurgery, orthopaedic surgery, and the urology and nephrology departments.

“Liaquat University Hospital Hyderabad/Jamshoro is one of the largest hospitals in Sindh, having 2,050 beds and where all the major facilities are available round the clock,” reads the letter.

“The hospital provides medical cover to 14 districts of the province, with 100 per cent bed occupancy. This hospital is already facing an acute shortage of modern machinery and equipment, while the flow of patients is increasing day by day.”

The MS said that although the funds for the two robotic surgery machines have been received by the hospital, they have not yet been used.

He said that the entire senior faculty and doctors have authorised him to urge the health department to request for the reappropriation of the funds for the provision of basic health facilities to save thousands of lives on a monthly basis.

“Neither do we have the trained staff to perform robotic surgeries nor do we have the budget to perform them. Even a minor conventional surgery that costs a few thousand rupees will be done in over Rs500,000 through the robot, which is a complete waste of resources.”

Dr Junejo pointed out that since Pakistan is a resource-scarce country, it is not at all a favourable thing to spend billions of rupees on luxury treatments.

Meanwhile, letters from medical superintendents of various other public hospitals are being received by the health department for the provision of fuel for generators, ambulances for moving patients, surgical items and basic medicines, personal protective equipment for doctors and staff, and other basic things to run the health facilities effectively.

Many of them even questioned the provision of over Rs89 billion to institutions like the Indus Hospital, the Sindh Institute of Urology & Transplantation and The Kidney Centre among others.

They claimed that these health facilities are not apprising people about the provincial government’s contribution in providing healthcare facilities and are involved only in their own marketing.

At the same time, the provincial government is being criticised by the people because its own health facilities, including dozens of Sindh government hospitals, are facing acute shortages of funds, staff, and basic equipment and machinery, they added.