THE response of the Ministry of National Health Services to reports of the recent sackings of several hundred doctors with MS/MD degrees working in the Gulf countries lacks the seriousness, urgency and force with which Islamabad should have pursued the issue. Merely taking ‘serious note’ of the termination of contracts of Pakistani doctors working in Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states will neither help the affected doctors nor redeem the respect of the postgraduate medical training programmes offered by various universities in the country. The matter requires the ministry to mobilise all available resources and use diplomatic channels via the Foreign Office to reach out to the health authorities of these countries and put to rest their concerns over the quality of university postgraduate training programmes, instead of wasting time on the ‘verification of the problem’. Also, it should have set up a committee of reputable medical practitioners to look into the concerns of the foreign employers of Pakistani doctors and suggest changes in the MS/MD programme — if required — to meet international standards of postgraduate medical training. Such a committee could also have been given the task of probing the allegations of affected doctors against the College of Physicians and Surgeons Pakistan for having presented “distorted facts about Pakistan’s university [postgraduate medical training] programme to maintain the monopoly of [doctors with] FCPS qualifications” offered by it. If these accusations are found to be true, the CPSP administration should be taken to task for damaging the country’s reputation at the international level.
Not only has this wholesale rejection of the postgraduate MS/MD degree programme in Pakistan rendered doctors working in the Gulf jobless (many have returned or are facing the threat of deportation), it is also a national embarrassment. Meanwhile, the concerns raised over the quality of medical education and training imparted by our institutions must be addressed. While many of these may be unfounded, the fact remains that the standards of medical education in the country have slipped along with the quality of healthcare facilities available to the people. Issuing an official statement in defence of our medical education or giving verbal assurances to those who employ Pakistani doctors in other countries will not be enough to restore confidence in the major medical degrees. The government will have to take serious measures to revamp the domestic medical education infrastructure, including training and research programmes, to bring them at par with globally recognised standards.
Published in Dawn, August 10th, 2019