ISLAMABAD: Taking notice of the absence of a Ministry of National Health Services (NHS) representative from two consecutive hearings, the Islamabad High Court (IHC) on Thursday summoned the NHS secretary to its next hearing, scheduled for June 12.

The court was also displeased that a notification was issued despite restraining orders regarding the promotions of doctors, which had negatively impacted the seniority of deputationist doctors.

IHC Chief Justice Athar Minallah said the ministry was playing with the court and the public. He said doctors were frontline soldiers against the coronavirus and were being saluted across the globe but the NHS ministry’s attitude towards them was unserious.

Court criticises absence of NHS ministry representative for two consecutive hearings

The issue of deputationist and inducted employees was first raised in Sindh almost a decade ago during the tenure of the last PPP government, when police officials petitioned the Sindh High Court against the induction of favoured officers and claimed that their seniority had suffered because of this practice.

The matter later reached the Supreme Court, which directed all officers who came after 1994 to return to their parent departments.

The issue was highlighted again in 2016, when the SC asked the Capital Development Authority (CDA) if it was empowered to absorb officials, after which the CDA sent back all such officials to their parent departments.

Other departments, including the National Assembly, police, National Food Security Divisionand others, followed suit.

Around 150 doctors deputed in Islamabad hospitals fall in this category as well, which led to a debate on whether to repatriate them. At the time this was being considered, the capital’s hospitals were already short on staff and repatriating doctors could have led to a crisis.

It was also certain that doctors who were repatriated would leave their jobs and begin working at private hospitals in the capital, due to which the provinces would not benefit from the decision either.

On directions from the SC, a committee was formed that suggested that doctors should not be repatriated and a service structure should be made for them instead. The NHS ministry delayed the issue a number of times, because of which the matter went back and forth between the SC and the IHC.

The ministry eventually did make a service structure but the names of deputationists were not included on the list of doctors to be promoted. The SC referred the matter to the IHC again, and the high court directed the ministry not to notify the promotions, but the ministry did so anyway.

Justice Minallah said on Thursday doctors had put their lives at stake but the NHS ministry was not giving them their rights and forcing doctors to keep visiting the court.

Although a representative from the Pakistan Institute of Medical Sciences (Pims) tried to speak, the court did not permit it and remarked that the representative had nothing to do with the matter. The court later summoned the NHS secretary on June 12.

Published in Dawn, June 5th, 2020