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LAHORE: The health authorities seem least interested in complying with the Supreme Court’s directions to address the chronic shortage of beds in intensive care units of all the teaching hospitals in Punjab, putting lives of the seriously ill patients at risk.

It is evident from the fact that the department has failed to procure beds, ventilators and monitors despite giving assurance to the apex court to complete the process by the end of June this year.

However, despite a delay of six months or so the government hospitals are awaiting equipment to provide critical care to patients visiting them in life-threatening condition, a senior official told Dawn.

He said one of the major reasons behind the ‘inordinate’ delay was said to be the ‘unwarranted fear’ of the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) among the senior government officers while dealing with the mega schemes involving finances (multimillion funds).

The same happened with the [in-question] scheme in health department when its head delayed the approval to place order for the procurement of the equipment despite completion of the entire bidding process.

SC had directed provision of adequate facilities; hospitals have 970 beds and as per world criteria 2,900 are required

“The bidding process for the [above-mentioned] items was completed and funds were released by the finance department a month back but Health Secretary Saqib Zafar had been sitting on the file since then,” said the official adding that there were many other such health projects awaiting his signatures to start procurement.

According to the official documents, (a copy is available with Dawn), the total bed strength of all the government teaching hospitals in Punjab was 29,000.

According to the international standard, the government must allocate 10 per cent of the total bed strength for ICU patients that accounts for 2,900 beds.

Presently, the ICUs of the teaching hospitals in the province were housing 970 beds. On the directions of the Supreme Court, the health department had initiated procurement process for 279 new ventilators, 333 monitors and 199 beds to increase the facilities for critical patients.

If the procurement was done accordingly, yet the government hospitals would face over 50 percent shortage of ICU beds.

On the other hand, the official said, many complaints are surfacing that the patients visiting in critical condition were being denied treatment by the government hospitals due to acute shortage of the ICU beds.

“They have no option other than to get expensive treatment in private sector hospitals where the package of ICU charges range from Rs40,000 to Rs50,000 for 12 hours,” he said.

Chief Justice of Pakistan Saqib Nisar had taken suo motu notice of the condition of government hospitals in Punjab in February this year.

During the course of hearing, it had transpired that the public sector teaching hospitals were blatantly lacking ICU care due to scarcity of beds and the critical facilities including beds, monitors, and ventilators.

The CJP had directed the health department for procurement of the missing facilities in order to save lives of patients, the official said.

The documents said the pre-qualification of firms for the procurement of ICU ventilators, monitors and beds was concluded in May 2018.

The financial bids of technically responsive firms were opened in June and procurement process was completed in July.

However, the Advance Acceptance of Tender to the lowest evaluated bidders could not be issued due to non-availability of funds.

Later, in November, the finance department intimated the health department that an amount of Rs778.2 million has been released placing it at the disposal of the specialised healthcare and medical education department secretary in respect of ADP Scheme “Purchase of ventilators and ventilators beds with basic ICU equipment for teaching hospital in Punjab (Phase-I).”

Since then, the file is awaiting signatures of the secretary health for approval to place orders for the purchase of the ICU equipment.

The secretary refused to comment on the issue.

Published in Dawn, December 7th, 2018