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RAWALPINDI: The young doctors’ protest against in-house private practices and the sacking of employees of the Sheikh Zayed Hospital, and for the reappointment of the Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH) medical superintendent inconvenienced drivers on Murree Road as well as hospital patients.

Patients visiting the outpatient departments (OPD) of government-run hospitals on Tuesday were shuttling between the OPD and the offices of the hospital administration, seeking medical attention.

The Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab announced protests against the Punjab government for not reappointing the former BBH medical superintendent. They are also protesting the Medical Teaching Institutions Act and the sacking of employees of the Sheikh Zayed Hospital.

They set up a protest camp outside the BBH OPD to pressure the government to notify Dr Tariq Masood Khan Niazi as the hospital’s medical superintendent. Dr Niazi was suspended after a conversation between him and Punjab Law Minister Mohammad Basharat Raja was leaked in the press.

Doctors were protesting sacking of employees at Sheikh Zayed Hospital, in-house private practices and for reappointment of BBH medical superintendent

More than 350 doctors and nurses assembled outside BBH and protested on Murree Road, blocking it for vehicular movement. The protest was led by YDA BBH President Dr Rana Azeem, YDA Punjab Chairman Dr Shoaib Tarrar and others.

The doctors shouted slogans against Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar, Law Minister Mohammad Basharat Raja, health ministers Aamer Mehmood Kiani and Dr Yasmin Rashid and Dr Shehbaz Gill, spokesperson to the chief minister. Some protesters also carried red flags.

OPDs in government-run hospitals are mostly staffed by young doctors. Due to the protest, many doctors deputed in hospital wards were absent from the duties despite several requests from the administration. No routine doctors’ rounds were reported on Tuesday.

Hospital authorities therefore asked senior doctors to examine patients who were coming to the hospitals from various parts of the city and nearby villages with serious health complications.

Raja Ali, a patient at BBH, said he had come from Naseerabad seeking medical treatment but there were no doctors available to see to him. He said he would visit a private clinic that charges Rs1,000 for a check-up, while the cost of medicines would be an additional burden on his pocket.

“I have been waiting for two hours for a doctor to examine my son, but there is no doctor present here. [My son] is suffering from a fever, a cold and stomach problems. I cannot pay for private doctors, so I brought him to a government hospital,” Zameer Khan, who was also at BBH, said.

Mohammad Bilal, who was stuck in traffic on Murree Road, said a separate space should be allocated for protesters so they can vent their anger, for the sake of poor patients who will not be able to get treatment at private clinics.

Meanwhile, YDA leaders addressing the protesters criticised the Punjab government’s decision to suspend the BBH medical superintendent in order to please Mr Raja, who they said was favoured by the chief minister.

They said the medical superintendent was removed for not caving to political pressure to transfer Dr Areeba Abbasi, the daughter of imprisoned PML-N leader Hanif Abbasi, from the emergency department to the dermatology department.

They said the government was also sacking doctors at Sheikh Zayed Hospital without any reason, and was planning to introduce the Medical Teaching Institutions Act to privatise government-run hospitals. They said the YDA would oppose such actions.

Dr Azeem said the federal and provincial health ministers, Mr Kiani and Dr Rashid, had acted as the enemies of doctors by not reappointing the BBH medical superintendent, adding that the YDA would continue to protest against the government’s actions.

He said the government was trying to bring a law to force doctors to run private practices on hospital premises in the evening.

“It will create problems for poor patients, as senior doctors will not entertain patients in the morning and will force them to come to their private clinics in the evening,” he said.

He added: “The proposed Medical Teaching Institutions Act will be another kind of privatisation.”

Employees of the District Headquarters Hospital also protested on Tuesday at Fawara Chowk, calling for their pay scales to be upgraded. They chanted slogans against the government and in favour of their demands.

Published in Dawn, February 20th, 2019