PROTESTS by doctors are endemic in parts of Pakistan. A new generation of young doctors takes over from the previous one; thousands are replaced by thousands of others. Governments come and go, and there are many changes. But the doctors continue to chant at the top of their voices as they did many years ago. Both in KP and Punjab, the cause of the protest are new laws. The KP doctors oppose a new ordinance that deprives them of key executive posts in local-level hospitals. In Punjab, the unrest is the result of the Punjab Medical Teaching Institutions Act, 2019. The protest has been organised by the Grand Health Alliance (GHA) which includes the Young Doctors Association and enjoys more than just the tacit support of senior doctors. The new law seeks to free public-sector hospitals in the province from government control. The doctors are objecting to the new terms, saying they would no more be government servants; instead, they would be beholden to independent boards of governors. The authorities claim they have accepted certain amendments to the act, but that has not had a placating effect.
It was the Shahbaz Sharif government that conceded the most important of the doctors’ demands amid much celebration. The victory in Punjab was hailed as heralding improvement in the job situation for doctors all over the country. But it didn’t quite succeed in ending the doctors’ street shows. There has been a change in perception since then. In Punjab and KP, or anywhere else in the country for that matter, doctors must adjust to certain realities that there is no escape from. As the new model of an autonomous hospital emerges on the horizon, the real cause for concern is not what it will offer to the doctors — who would be justified in asking for fair rewards for their skills, knowledge and time. The real worry is what these autonomous facilities will offer to the millions of patients who are so dependent on public-sector hospitals for treatment.
Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2019