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November 10, 2020

Healthcare body told to take action against quacks, other law violators


November 10, 2020

The Sindh High Court (SHC) on Monday ordered the Sindh Healthcare Commission (SHCC) to take action against violators of the SHCC Act and regulations at any of the health facilities across the province as well as against quacks.

The order came on a petition seeking action against unlicensed healthcare establishments in the province. Jaffer Raza and Asad Iftikhar said in their petition that several patients, including nine-month-old Nishwa, had died due to alleged medical negligence on the part of private health facilities.

They said that medical negligence at such a regular frequency only indicated that the issue was rampant in society and could only be attributed to weak laws and their even weaker implementation.

They also said that the apathy and callousness of medical practitioners and healthcare establishments had contributed to the menace to the extent that there was hardly a citizen who had been not been directly or indirectly affected.

They further said that there were countless instances of medical negligence whereby people had lost their lives due to improper treatment and those very medical practitioners continued risking the lives of many more because there was no proper system of checks and balances.

The petitioners said that the Sindh Healthcare Commission Act promulgated in 2013 also provided for the promulgation of a commission with wide-ranging powers, including investigations into malpractices and failures in the provision of healthcare services. They said that despite the passage of several years, the commission had not been working properly, adding that had the commission’s powers been put to use, society would not have experienced the horrific incidents of medical malpractice that were happening at an ever-increasing rate.

They also said that the SHCC was authorised to monitor and regulate the quality and standards of healthcare services as well as issue regulations and guidelines for the provisions of healthcare in Sindh, but the law seemed far-fetched and fictitious with no implementation.

They further said that omissions and lapses on the part of the commission by failing to use their discretionary powers had led to medical practitioners and healthcare establishments enjoying unprecedented impunity and their grave negligence went unchecked and without any legal repercussions.

The petitioners said that medical practitioners used medical jargon and terminologies to misguide the public and as a veil to hide their own incompetence and negligence, adding that the common man was easily deceived and did not take it upon himself to investigate the matter.

Referring to the SHCC’s inquiry report on the Nishwa case, they said it was mind-boggling to see that the medical establishment had been let off with just a nominal penalty despite 95 nurses at the Darul Sehat Hospital having been found to be unregistered and unqualified.

They also said that the commission was responsible for ensuring quality services at the hospitals registered with it and for taking action against those involved in negligence, but it only visited the Darul Sehat Hospital when it was forced to do so by the unfortunate circumstances of the Nishwa case.

Besides, they claimed, the report of the commission showed how it protected the healthcare facilities and other such establishments while making only staff members the scapegoat.

Citing the federal and provincial health ministries, the Pakistan Medical & Dental Council and the commission as respondents, they requested the court to order them to implement the SHCC Act and other relevant laws.

They also requested the court to order the government to carry out a third-party evaluation through an independent performance or clinical audit of healthcare establishments in accordance with the act and seal or shut down unlicensed healthcare facilities.

They sought the framing of standard operating procedures in line with internationally recognised medical practices and with the World Health Organisation’s guidelines, and cancel, revoke or terminate the licences of medical establishments found guilty of medical negligence.

The SHCC’s acting CEO told the court that they were implementing the law fully, saying that they had been receiving complaints against health facilities and investigating them on a daily basis, and in case of lapses, fining the violators. The official said they were taking action against quackery as well.

After taking the comments on record, the SHC’s division bench headed by Justice Mohammad Ali Mazhar disposed of the petition by directing the commission to vigilantly continue observing all the provisions contained in the SHCC Act and regulations. The court directed the commission to take action against violators of the SHCC Act and regulations at any of the health facilities across the province as well as against quacks.