Army comes to the rescue as Punjab sacks protesting doctors
LAHORE: The deadlock between the Punjab government and the protesting Young Doctors’ Association (YDA) took a dramatic turn Saturday as the government reached a decision to sack all doctors on strike.
However, the administration may have found a temporary solution to the severe healthcare crisis being faced by the province.
Upon Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif’s request, the Army has announced that it will give 150 of its doctors to the provincial government to cover up for those on strike.
The Army doctors will start their services from Sunday, and will be performing their duties in uniform at the public hospitals.
According to the military spokesperson, doctors of the armed forces will not bear responsibility for operational matters, which would be handled by the provincial government.
Government hospitals in Punjab, the country’s most densely populated province, have been facing a critical shortage of medical workers since the YDA started its protest. As a result, poor patients, who were left unattended, have had to bear the brunt of the strike at public hospitals across the province for the last 13 days.
The Punjab government had increased the salaries of the doctors last year but they also demanded improvement in service structure too. The doctors demanded their recruitment directly into Basic Pay Scale (BPS-18) besides facilities including house, telephone, five advance increments, two special allowances for professors – teaching allowance and health professional allowance – both equal to their running basic salary.
They also demanded soft loans for cars for BPS-18 doctors, 1,000cc cars with petrol and driver for BPS-20 and 1,300cc vehicles for all doctors in BPS-21 with driver and petrol.
“The financial position of the provincial government does not allow us to increase the salaries and fringe benefits of doctors especially seniors who were already earning more from their private clinics and hospitals,” Special Assistant to the Punjab Chief Minister for Health, Khawaja Salman Rafique had told Dawn earlier this week. “If accepted, the demands will cost the government an additional Rs17 billion in non-development expenditure.”
Earlier on Thursday, the Punjab government had also invoked the Essential Services Act of 1958 for Health Department employees. Under the act, the doctors are bound to be present at the place of duty and any violation is considered a crime, he said.
Opposition urges Shahbaz to resolve issue through dialogue
Meanwhile, Opposition Leader in the Punjab Assembly Raja Riaz Ahmad has urged Chief Minister Mian Shahbaz Sharif to resolve the issue of young doctors through dialogue.
Talking to the media outside the Governor’s House on Saturday, he said that threatening of imprisonment and imposing section 144 on doctors had exposed the authoritarian thinking of the Punjab CM.
He warned the Punjab government that the situation could worsen if the doctors were tortured or sent to jails as they were assets of the nation and they could not be cornered through stubborn attitude.
He urged the doctors and the CM to make their attitude flexible for the sake of poor patients.