LAHORE, July 18: Young doctors and the health department have ‘locked horns’ over two-month salary of 46 medical officers (MOs) that was stopped by authorities to ‘punish’ them for setting up a hunger strike camp outside Services Hospital.

The row has not been resolved despite 36 meetings between the two sides since March exclusively on the issue.

An insider told Dawn that tussle between the two sides intensified after the health department declared through a notification that these MOs were on an extraordinary leave, which means they were not eligible to get pay.

He said the health department had initially stopped salary and stipend for January and February 2013 of 300 young doctors, including medical officers, postgraduate trainees and house officers when they observed a strike in the wake of the Gujranwala incident in which some of their colleagues thrashed a senior doctor.

The Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab called off the strike after a meeting with Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif in Model Town on Feb 18.

Sharif had ordered immediate release of salaries to the doctors and also formed a committee headed by Senator Pervaiz Rashid to give recommendations on doctors’ charter of demands by Feb 25.

As trainees and house officers were on the strength of health institutions, their stipends were released immediately. However, salaries of medical officers belonging to hospitals of Lahore and Gujrat districts were not released.

Despite chief minister’s orders, the health department withdrew show-cause notices through the first notification dated March 1 and announced that the intervening period (during the hunger strike) by medical officers would be considered leave without pay, says the insider.

When medical officers raised the issue and expressed their concern at the ‘controversial’ notification, the health department closed the ‘chapter forever’ through another notification dated March 13 by converting the first order into ‘extraordinary leaves’.

“We have met 36 times exclusively on the issue, but the bureaucracy in the health department is creating hurdles,” YDA Jinnah Hospital general secretary Dr Adnan Gondal told Dawn. He said these medical officers were shocked when they learnt that the health department had declared their two-month period extraordinary leave despite the fact that none of them applied for the leave. “It was a bureaucratic trick used by senior health officials to irk health professionals,” he said.

Dr Gondal said a similar issue surfaced in 2011 and the then health secretary Fawad Hassan Fawad released salaries of the doctors through a notification (SO INQ) 1-27/2011 dated April 11, 2011 under Section 20 of the general clauses Act 1956. “When we took up the notification in the recent meetings, the health special secretary rejected it,” he said and added the YDA would fight medical officers’ case at all forums.

Health Secretary Hassan Iqbal said the matter was not in his knowledge and he would comment on it after getting information from health officials about it.

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