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Doctors in distress

October 06, 2018

The recent wave of persecution faced by doctors is not something new. Over the years, medical practitioners, mostly young doctors, have been victims of intolerance and abuse – both verbal and physical – at the hands of patients and their attendants.

Of the many problems that surround Pakistan’s healthcare chassis, the issue that needs to be addressed on a priority basis is the safety and wellbeing of doctors in public hospitals, especially across Punjab.

According to official reports, only one doctor is available in Pakistan for every 6,325 people. This ratio is worsening rapidly owing to the unsafe working environment. With each passing day, more young doctors are opting to work in health systems outside Pakistan where they are provided workplace safety, respect, and adequate compensation, which reflects on their medical journey and long working hours. The doctors who choose to stay in Pakistan either cannot bear the expenses of going abroad or have domestic compulsions that prevent them from moving to other countries.

Imagine a mob of 15 to 20 people surrounding and threatening a doctor outside the emergency department for reasons over which the doctor has no control, such as the unavailability of a vacant bed to admit a patient. In other instances, when a patient who is in the terminal stages of a disease is brought to a hospital, the on-duty doctors sometimes fail to save his/her life despite making all possible efforts. The relatives of the departed patient often start hurling abuses and pounding their knuckles and knees at the doctor on the pretext that he was careless. More often than not, this is captured on video cameras. Under these circumstances, the hapless doctor who is subjected to this form of violence often regrets the day he chose to don his white overalls.

The problem is further compounded by an active media that jumps into the scene and sides with the patient’s attendants without realising the limitations of doctors who are forced to handle multiple patients at one time. Some media outlets have painted a picture, which has led to the formation of an untrue narrative about doctors among the people. These outlets portray doctors as money-grabbing machines. Let’s put an end to this myth by considering the ground realities and facts.

After completing a five-year-long MBBS degree, young doctors start their first paid job – a house job – that terminates after a one-year period. In most private hospitals across Punjab, doctors are given Rs25,000 during this period while public hospitals pay doctors Rs45,000 for house jobs. Next comes the postgraduate training or residency period during which medical practitioners are paid between Rs15,000 and Rs65,000. Let’s not forget that many people are unable to get themselves a paid training job, even after passing the required examinations.

For these reasons, young doctors stage peaceful protests while always keeping emergency departments open to provide care to critically ill. The concerned authorities have invariably shown an unflinching attitude in response to the demands of young doctors. This has made the protesting doctors look like hamsters running on a wheel.

The chorus of ‘change’ has echoed across Pakistan for long and those claiming to bring this change are now in power after winning Election 2018. Since the new government speaks highly of Western policies, it should follow the West and declare violence against doctors a non-bailable offence. Shaukat Khanum Memorial Hospital has a stringent rule of discharging those patient and attendants who are found manhandling their doctors. Furthermore, CCTV cameras, trained security guards and a ‘one-patient, one attendant’ policy, especially in emergency rooms and intensive-care units, should be introduced in all hospitals.

The recent assault on doctors in Rawalpindi’s Holy Family Hospital has once again raised concerns about the future of doctors. At this stage, doctors are looking towards the new Punjab health ministry to end their long-standing frustration and desperation and improve Punjab’s health sector.

The writer is a doctor based in Islamabad.

Twitter: @rajakhalidshab

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