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January 3, 2019

Health regulatory body fails to make its presence felt


January 3, 2019

When a man, Amir Ahmed, had his sick son denied treatment by a doctor on duty at a private hospital and the hospital administration also refused to take any action on his protest, he decided to approach the Sindh Healthcare Commission (SHCC), the provincial regulatory body for health, for remedial action.

However, after approaching the SHCC, Ahmed was surprised to learn that he would have to first lodge a formal complaint with the hospital concerned and wait for 30 days before the commission could initiate any process to redress his grievance.

In a city like Karachi where thousands of people daily visit public and private hospitals for treatment, several unfortunate incidents take place on a daily basis where patients are denied treatment or given wrong treatment that sometimes leads to loss of organs or even life.

When the SHCC was formed, residents of Sindh heaved a sigh of relief as the commission appeared as a forum for redress of grievances related to health services. However, the slow and cumbersome procedure at the commission seem to have disillusioned many people like Ahmed.

Critics of the SHCC believe that the commission has failed to make its presence felt as people continue to suffer at the hands of quacks, incompetent doctors and paramedics, greedy administration of public and private hospitals and fake Hakeems, who are using all kinds of banned chemicals to treat patients and extorting money from them by prescribing unnecessary treatment and tests.

“There are thousands of quacks operating in this city alone who are making lives of people miserable. Last week, we raided the Matab of a Sanyasi Baba, who was giving steroids to patients in the garb of herbal medicines but nobody is there to stop him and thousands of others subjecting ignorant people to chronic poisoning,” a senior official of the provincial drug administration told The News.

Quacks practising medicine, herbal medicine and dentistry are not only giving behind-the-counter medicines and high potency drugs to patients but are also spreading Hepatitis B, C and HIV/Aids among people by using unsterilised surgical utensils, the official said, adding that medical stores and even grocery stores are full of banned, smuggled and illegal drugs which are being bought by people on quacks’ advice.

Similarly, hundreds of people feel unsatisfied and cheated when medical practitioners and administration of private hospitals conduct unnecessary procedures, causing heavy financial burden on the families of patients. As people are not qualified enough to challenge the healthcare providers, they either pay the money to the hospitals or terminate treatment at the health facilities by opting for the ‘leave against medical advice’.

“My hospital administration had given me the task of performing at least 50 endoscopies in a month whether the patient required the procedure or not. After serving seven years, when I failed to meet the target consecutively for three months, they fired me,” said a senior gastroenterologist, requesting anonymity. Poor patients do not know that often procedures, for which they pay thousands of rupees, are not even required, the health expert lamented.

The gastroenterologist claimed that he had seen officers serving at administrative posts of hospitals exerting pressure on doctors and surgeons to conduct unnecessary

investigations, radiological interventions and other procedures which are not required. Sometimes people know they are being cheated but they have no platform available to lodge their complaints and seek justice, he said.

SHCC version

When asked about the apparent inactivity of the commission, the SHCC chief executive officer (CEO), Dr Minhaj Qidwai, claimed that the regulatory body was properly functioning and dealing with all sort of work under its scope, ranging from registration and licensing of health practitioners and facilities to action against quackery and blunders in treatment.

“After our inception, we took time to form our basis of working and then we started functioning as per our mandate,” Dr Qidwai said, adding that registration of healthcare providers and institutions, and issuance of provisional licences were under way at the regulatory body.

The SHCC CEO maintained that the commission had also recently started taking action on the complaints of people against healthcare providers.

Commenting on the waiting period of 30 days after which complainants could approach the SHCC in case the relevant health facility did not redress their grievances, Dr Qidwai said it was a standard procedure at the commission.

The CEO also revealed that following court order, the commission was set to start action in the ongoing month against quacks in four districts of the province, including District South of Karachi. He asserted that uprooting menace of quackery was one of the prime responsibilities of the commission.

Dr Qidwai said he recently visited Lyari General Hospital and gave its administration one month to make improvements in several areas and departments. He added that an inquiry into the death of a youngster during a minor procedure at Abbassi Shaheed Hospital was also near completion.

“We are functioning as per our scope and mandate but our activities are not reaching out to the people through media. We have hired a media director and soon all our actions and steps would be made public,” the SHCC CEO said.

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