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March 5, 2019

Senior doctors in LRH quitting jobs to protest changes in health policy, violation of merit

National

March 5, 2019

PESHAWAR: Senior doctors in the Lady Reading Hospital (LRH) have started quitting their jobs or are applying for leave prior to retirement to protest the recent changes in health policy and alleged violation of merit in key appointments in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s oldest and biggest tertiary care hospital.

The majority of senior faculty members in LRH were disappointed over the recent appointment of a junior doctor, Dr Suleman Khan as medical director LRH. The LRH Board of Governors (BoG), headed by the US-based Dr Nausherwan Burki, recently appointed Assistant Professor Dr Suleman Khan as medical director of the hospital.

According to the faculty members, it is the first time in the 92 years history of the hospital that a junior doctor who is an assistant professor was appointed head of the LRH. They said Dr Suleman, rheumatologist, returned from the United Kingdom two years ago and was recruited as assistant professor. Dr Burki is the architect of the health reforms of the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) government in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), though he has been unable to ensure uniformity of reforms in all the MTIs.

Being cousin of Prime Minister Imran Khan, nobody could dare stand up to Dr Burki. Certain doctors and civil servants who willingly or unwillingly resisted some of his decisions had to pay the price.

Dr Suleman does not have his rheumatology unit in LRH. Dr Burki first replaced the senior most physician and head of medicine department, Prof Dr Intikhab Alam and then ignoring all senior faculty members appointed Dr Suleman as chairman of the medicine and allied departments. It shocked the senior doctors serving for years in LRH, some of them nearing retirement.

Then the medical director’s position was advertised. According to sources in LRH, Dr Burki had allegedly already made up his mind to appoint Dr Suleman, though he did not fulfill the criteria set for this high position.

Dr Suleman had never held any administrative position before his appointment as medical director. He didn’t even run a unit, the sources claimed. “I don’t have any grudge against Dr Suleman but he remained my trainee and now like other senior faculty members I will have to work under him. Isn’t this discredit to the services of senior doctors,” argued a senior faculty member when approached for seeking his comments regarding frustration among the doctors.

Beside other reasons, the doctors complained the hospital administration recently sent letters to all the faculty members to opt for the Institutional Based Practice (IBP) by February 28, 2019. Those not opting for IBP would not be considered for administrative positions, including head of department.

The majority of the doctors said they were willing to opt for IBP but the LRH administration and its BoG didn’t ensure adequate facilities to them and their patients. Also, the doctors opting for IBP were required not to attend clinics outside LRH even in their native areas on weekends.

Those who decided to quit their jobs include prominent doctors who made contributions to their respective departments. Among them is Prof Dr Mumtaz Ali, a noted neurosurgeon and head of Neurosurgery Department LRH.

Dr Mumtaz Ali had taken charge of the neurosurgery department when most of the senior doctors, including neurosurgeons Dr Aizaz Ali Shah, Dr Tariq Hashim and Dr Tariq Safi resigned in protest over the Institutional Based Private Practice (IBP) introduced by then Governor Lt-Gen Iftikhar Hussain Shah in 2002.

In his tenure, Dr Mumtaz Ali not only established his own department but set up another unit in LRH and then developed neurosurgery department in the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH). He spent his own resources by hiring lawyers to pursue the case in the court after the KTH administration deliberately delayed setting up the unit. Dr Mumtaz Ali was the first neurosurgeon who operated upon Malala Yousafzai, subsequently the youngest Nobel laureate, when she was shifted to Peshawar after being injured by Taliban militants in her native Swat valley on October 9, 2012.

The surgery was carried out at the Combined Military Hospital in Peshawar before she was flown to the United Kingdom for further treatment. Dr Mumtaz Ali developed neurosurgery as super speciality and trained a large number of doctors now serving in Pakistan and elsewhere in the world. Another senior faculty member Prof Intikhab Alam has gone on leave prior to retirement (LPR).

Besides being an acclaimed physician, Prof Intikhab Alam was head of the LRH medicine department. He remained chairman department of medicine and allied department before his appointment as the first chief executive of the Postgraduate Medical Institute (PGMI).

Prof Amjad Taqweem, a prominent physician, also went on LPR. He remained supervisor of several trainee medical officers (TMOs) and trained many doctors. Gastroenterologist Prof Javed Iqbal Farooqi has also applied for LPR, but his application hasn’t been accepted yet.