LAHORE: Through introducing a bill in the Punjab Assembly to amend the UHS Ordinance 2002, the Punjab government is going to clip the wings of the University of Health Sciences, restricting its powers, as the sole institution, to affiliate the private and public sector medical colleges across the province.

As per concerned circles in medical education, the amendments have been proposed “to please” private medical universities of Punjab by granting them the powers to affiliate medical colleges in the province, as enjoyed by the UHS under the Act.

Titled as the University of Health Sciences, Lahore (Amendment) Bill 2022 (No. 30 of 2022), the bill has been tabled in the assembly by Mian Shafi Muhammad, MPA (PP-258), Ms Shawana Bashir, MPA (W-302), and Ms Neelum Hayat Malik, MPA (W-309), seeking amendment in Section 37 of UHS Ordinance 2002.

The Section 37 grants power to the UHS to affiliate, “all medical institutions, whether in public or private sector, located within the geographical boundaries of the Province of the Punjab”.

The proposed amendment is aimed at replacing the expression “[UHS] shall affiliate” with “may affiliate” in the subsection (1), thus eliminating the binding nature of the relevant clause.

The move ‘backed by health minister’ will benefit private sector

The Section 37 of the UHS Ordinance 2002 has been supported by the Lahore High Court in its judgment given on July 16, 2003.

An official privy to the development, quoting some medical experts, termed the move a ‘nasty step’ aimed at destroying a reputed government institute that introduced standardised medical education, producing thousands of qualified medics since its establishment, “just for promoting private sector money-minting medical universities in Punjab”.

“This would be the worst-ever decision in the medical education history of Punjab if implemented”, fears the official, seeking anonymity.

He apprehended the move may financially destabilise the UHS “which is solely dependent on the funds collected in the form of administrative, examination, registration charges from the affiliated institutions in the absence of any grant from the Punjab government”.

Established in 2002 under the ordinance promulgated by the then Punjab governor retired Lt Gen Khalid Maqbool (that was later enacted as a law by the Punjab Assembly in 2009) the UHS was the first medical university of Punjab set up to standardise and homogenise the medical education in the province, he says.

Before establishment of the UHS, the official says, medical education used to be dealt by the general universities that were criticised for having outdated curricula and antiquated examination system.The UHS is the only medical institution of the province that was included in the QS World University Rankings and has 144 institutions affiliated with it, including 66 medical and dental colleges of Punjab and Azad Jammu & Kashmir.

The official believes the private sector medical institutions would be benefited by the amendments that would help them evade mandatory affiliation with the UHS under the Section 37.

Giving example of the Pakistan Medical and Dental Council – the defunct regulatory body for medical and dental education in the country -- he says the private sector institutions in the PMDC had out numbered the public sector institutions and the former would usually get favourable decisions by the body, compromising the quality, merit and at times even legal obligations.

Sources say Punjab Health Minister Prof Dr Yasmin Rashid has been expressing her ‘desire’ to introduce amendments in the UHS Act, in some official meetings, when Prof Javed Akram was the UHS vice chancellor. They say Prof Akram strongly resisted the move and used his influence in the government to foil these attempts as he considered the UHS an ‘asset’ for the medical community for introducing standardised medical education in Punjab.

The sources claim the health minister has never visited the UHS, nor attended any meeting since Prof Ahsan Waheed Rathore assumed charge as the UHS VC.

This reporter made several calls to Prof Yasmin Rashid, besides leaving messages on her mobile phone, but she didn’t respond to give her stance on the issue.

Published in Dawn, December 13th, 2022

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