A patient along with his attendants waits outside the health facility while (right) JPMC doctors stage a protest on Thursday.—White Star
A patient along with his attendants waits outside the health facility while (right) JPMC doctors stage a protest on Thursday.—White Star

KARACHI: Protesting doctors at the Jinnah Postgraduate Medical Centre (JPMC) suspended outpatient department (OPD) services on Thursday, forcing a large number of poor patients, including the elderly, to return without getting any treatment.

The doctors are demanding that the federal and the provincial governments take them on board over the fate of the hospital which, under a Supreme Court order, is to be handed over to the former.

The strike was held after the government paid no heed to doctors’ ultimatum given two days ago.

While the doctors Dawn spoke with insisted that the protest was brief, causing no inconvenience to patients as the OPD resumed its operation after an hour or so, the majority of patients suffered miserably.

“Our father is in a lot of pain and we have no option but to seek treatment elsewhere,” said Ahsan, who had brought his ailing father to JPMC in an ambulance from New Karachi.

Staffers want the provincial and federal governments to consult them over the hospital’s future

Other patients’ attendants, most of them illiterate who had come after spending their hard-earned money on transporting their loved ones to the hospital, had similar stories to narrate.

They were found helpless as doctors were busy in their protest and they had been left to fend for themselves.

Prolonged legal battle

The JPMC, the largest tertiary care hospital in the public sector, caters to thousands of patients daily.

Unfortunately, however, the services of the hospital have been greatly affected since 2011 when the facility, along with the National Institute of Health and the National Institute of Cardiovascular Diseases, was devolved to the provincial government under 18th Constitutional Amendment in 2010.

The step, sources said, was taken without taking the medical staff, the main stakeholders, into confidence, which resulted in a series of strikes, causing immense hardships to patients.

The employees of the healthcare facilities challenged this development in the Sindh High Court (SHC), which ordered to hand back the control of the hospitals to the centre in 2016.

The Sindh government claiming to have invested millions in the development of NICH, NICVD and JPMC challenged the high court’s decision in the apex court, which wrapped up the dispute upholding SHC’s decision, in 2019.

Fearing that their interests would be ignored and the federal government would roll back the process of their promotions, the doctors demand that both the federal and the provincial governments set up a committee in which their representatives are included and hold “meaningful” talks.

The prolonged legal battle had a severe negative impact on patient services at the hospital as well as careers of the doctors as there was no promotion or hiring under court directives.

The hospital saw a time when only four to five departments were left with a professor and most departments were run by assistant professors or medical officers acting as in-charge of departments.

Most of the departments were almost on the verge of de-recognition for postgraduate training due to depleted faculty.

The Sindh government’s decision to set up the Jinnah Sindh Medical University infused new life into the JPMC.

In 2016, the government hired university’s faculty from the JPMC through a selection process which, doctors demand, shouldn’t be reversed.

Published in Dawn, February 14th, 2020