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PESHAWAR: The health department has ended a contract under which it had outsourced basic health units to Sarhad Rural Support Programme in 17 districts of the province.

A notification to end the long association with the NGO, which under the People Primary Healthcare Initiative (PPHI) project ran 570 basic health units, was issued by the health department on Thursday. The organisation had begun to run the affairs of four basic health units in 2007 and by 2010 it extended functions to more districts in the province.

A letter was also sent to the Sarhad Rural Support Programme chief executive, saying the contract stood terminated from September 30. The NGO has been asked to deposit the unspent amount within seven days positively.

Under the agreement, the NGO received total funds for the designated basic health units from the government and employed staff on vacant posts and acquired disposable stuff and other equipments within days because it was not bound to follow government’s rules and it led to improvement in patients’ care.

District health officers to manage affairs of basic health units

The health department had extended the contract, last year till December 2018 but the partner agency demanded Rs170 million annually for the administrative cost of its staff and offices in the PPHI-covered districts.

Sarhad Rural Support Programme received amount for administrative expenses from the federal government, which stopped it last year and asked the provinces to pay for the expenses if they wanted extension of the contract with the NGO. SRSP ran same projects in other provinces too.

The health department argued that administrative cost was not part of the contract owing to which the NGO faced financial problems and its 212 employees of the total 500 were without salaries from the past three months.

The employees also obtained a stay order from court against termination of the contract when health department asked the DHOs in July to take over BHUs from the NGO.

The employees have pleaded the court that they should be regularised owing to their vast experience as healthcare providers. A hearing of the case is scheduled to be held on December 8.

The employees don’t have any appointment letter issued by the health department as they were recruited by SRSP.

Sarhad Rural Support Programme had been getting renewed the contract under Memorandum of Understanding with the health department from time to time.

The contract has drawn criticism from the district health officers (DHOs), who say they have been supervising all health facilities except district headquarters hospitals in their respective districts therefore they should be given control of the basic health units also.

A senior DHO told Dawn that it was an encroachment upon the authority of district health system and PPHI had led to parallel management and duplication of work. “All the DHOs are management specialists and can run basic health units as they manage bigger facilities like rural health centres, civil hospitals, tehsil hospitals,” he said.

A few months ago, the DHOs were also given category A powers to resolve their financial and administrative affairs at the local level.

Published in Dawn, December 2nd, 2016