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Thursday December 02, 2021

Of KTH tragedy and second inquiry committee

December 22, 2020

PESHAWAR: Even before the second inquiry committee of the Khyber Teaching Hospital (KTH), constituted to look into deaths of six patients due to lack of oxygen supply on December 6 submits its report, questions are being raised about the credibility of such an exercise.

Many at the hospital said that the actual number of affected patients that died that night was higher than six that were officially confirmed.

The incident shocked people of the country in general and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa in particular. KTH is the second biggest hospital of the province, attached to the prestigious Khyber Medical College (KMC).

The Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) has been ruling Khyber Pakhtunkhwa for the last seven years. It had claimed to have improved the healthcare services for the people. However, such gruesome incidence like this negates these claims.

It should also be mentioned that Prime Minister Imran Khan’s trusted lieutenant on health, the current special assistant to prime minister (SAPM), Dr Faisal Sultan remained chairman of the Board of Governors (BoG) of KTH since 2015 until only about four months ago.

In the immediate aftermath of the incidence, the hospital constituted a fact-finding committee. The hospital BoG suspended the Hospital Director (HD), Dr Tahir Nadeem, along with few other employees in light of the findings of the fact-finding committee.

Yet another committee was formed about a week ago by the hospital BoG to investigate in ‘detail’ the incidence and determine responsibility. The committee comprises some doctors working at KTH.

People have reacted to the formation of these committees with skepticism. The first issue they raised is the power and scope of the committees to hold a thorough and broad-based probe.As an autonomous institute under the 2015 MTI act, the ultimate responsibility for running the hospital lies with its BoG.

As such, the public would expect that any probe includes investigating the role of the BoG as well.It is unclear as to how a committee whose members, for all practical purposes are employees of and serve at the pleasure of the BoG, are capable of investigating the BoG and its role.

The role of the BoG of the second biggest hospital of the province is paramount in planning to cope with the situation resulting from the Covid-19 crisis declared a pandemic in March 2020. That would include assessment of the situation, determination of current resources and reallocation and enhancement of these resources in dealing with it.

The first question the general public asks is whether the committee is empowered to look into the role of the BoG? Can subordinates of the BoG make an honest assessment of the role of its own governing body with any fear of retribution?

There are also question marks regarding the composition of the BoG. The first fact-finding report was signed by one of its members ‘Dr’ Nadeem Alam. Questions were soon raised as to his qualification to become the BoG member.

This newspaper reported about it as ‘Dr’ Nadeem Alam could not give satisfactory answers whether he was a qualified doctor and why is he mentioned in BoG meetings as a doctor.He claims to have an MBA but wrote only BSc on his nomination papers with the Election Commission as candidate for a provincial assembly seat as a PTI candidate.

He also couldn’t provide satisfactory answers regarding his qualification for being appointed member of the BoG of a prestigious and big hospital like KTH.To date, neither the hospital BoG nor the health minister has released any statement on the controversy regarding the possibility of fake qualification of the BoG member who sits in the meetings to decide about the incidence of deaths in the hospital.

The present chairman of the BOG was Medical Director (MD) of KTH some time ago before another MD was recruited.The suspended hospital director Dr. Tahir Nadeem in a letter to the BoG has made the startling accusation that on the night between December 6 and 7, he was told by the chairman BoG that there was immense pressure from ‘the government, political elements and the media’ to take severe action that won’t be satisfied if action was taken against low-level employees only.

According to the HD’s letter, now part of the record, the chairman BoG informed him that the BoG had to suspend him to ‘pacify the government, politicians and the media’.The HD’s letter also states that the BoG committee had not provided him with the audio recording of his meeting with them.

He raised serious questions regarding conflict of interest on part of the head of the first committee, Dr. Rooh ul Muqeem, as the HD during his previous appointment had headed an inquiry against the same doctor and held him responsible in the matter.

Dr. Tahir Nadeem, the suspended HD, is known in medical circles as an honest person who strictly adheres to the rules. He is a BPS-20 officer in the provincial health services and had taken over as HD KTH earlier this year. According to reports, he had arranged for the hospital’s oxygen tank capacity to be doubled from 5,000 litres to 10,000 litres.

According to another report, he had also moved a case for approval to the BoG for installing central oxygen supply. This was ultimately discussed by the BoG in a meeting on December 9.The HD apparently was given only a few hours to submit his ‘defense’ to the second committee. It is not known whether he has been officially charge-sheeted or not. This correspondent asked chairman BoG through WhatsApp if the HD has been officially charge-sheeted or not but Dr. Nadeem Khawar, Chairman BoG never replied to the question.

This correspondent also asked the chairman BoG whether it was true that he had told the suspended HD that he was being suspended as there was immense pressure to fire someone higher up? Again he did not answer.

Dr. Nadeem Khawar was also asked if the BoG was capable of conducting an inquiry when its own role needed to be investigated. Similarly, no reply was received regarding the qualification of BoG member ‘Dr’ Nadeem Alam.

Another question was whether it was true that the actual number of patients that died in the incident was higher than the reported six. No reply was received about the total deaths in the

incident.

He also did not answer when asked whether the BoG as the ultimate authority at the hospital takes responsibility and if it had given any thought to resigning as it failed in discharging its duties in keeping the patients safe.This correspondent sent the same questions to Taimur Saleem Jhagra, provincial minister health and if he could ask chairman BoG to reply to our questions. But it didn’t help.

It is highly doubtful that the inquiry report would have credibility. It is feared that it might be an eyewash with few sacrificial lambs implicated only.

People are asking for a higher-level investigation to probe the role of everybody including the higher-ups. One such route may be formation of a judicial commission or inquiry under a high court judge.

Such a committee or commission should look at the role of all concerned, including the BoG of the hospital. It is important that it should also look into how the BoG was nominated in the first place. It should satisfy the public as to how someone with dubious credentials got a place on the BoG and continues to serve till today.