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February 13, 2020

The PMDC returns

Editorial

 
February 13, 2020

In yet another embarrassing setback for the federal government, the Islamabad High Court on Tuesday restored the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council and declared the formation of the Pakistan Medical Commission (which was to replace it) illegal. The PMC had been set up through a presidential ordinance last year and resulted in strong protests from within the medical community including the 220 PMDC employees who had been terminated. Following the promulgation of the controversial ordinance, the Ministry of National Health Services had seized the PMDC building. The employees who lost their jobs chose to move the court, and a series of protests by doctors, nurses, paramedics and other medical staff broke out across the country. The government also failed to have the ordinance passed by parliament and was currently involved in attempting to extend the presidential order by another 120 days.

From the start of this controversy senior medical experts had warned that such a major step should not be taken without consultation and preferably enacted after discussion and debate in parliament. The PMDC has overlooked the affairs of medical practice and education in the country since it was set up in the early 1960s. There were concerns that the new PMC could give in to pressure from private medical universities which make up a powerful lobby and agree to fee increases which the PMDC had been opposing. The PMDC has also been cracking down on medical colleges in the private sector which were not properly equipped with laboratories and other facilities. In its petition, the PMDC also contended it was not possible to remove its president, vice president and executive until a new commission was elected through annual elections. They pointed out that this sudden sealing of the PMDC left medicine in the country without any supervision or provision for overview.

There have of course been complaints about the PMDC and its efficiency. The court has however noted that the manner in which it was shot down was illegal while also taking note of the fears expressed that the new PMC could induct people on contractual positions making it impossible for previous PMDC employees with years of experience to serve the council. The whole affair essentially underscores the problems associated with attempting to run a government through presidential ordinances in the presence of an elected parliament. Eleven such ordinances were promulgated in November last year at the same time as the PMC ordinance leading to protests in the National Assembly. Quite obviously, it is better to take all opinions on board before making decisions which have an impact on a crucial sector of life in the country so that the system of healthcare can be run as efficiently as possible.