LAHORE: Because of what appears to be gross negligence on the part of the Primary and Secondary Healthcare Department, all the 64 sanctioned posts of the anesthesia specialists at the 37 Tehsil Headquarters Hospitals (THQs) in 20 districts of Punjab are lying vacant for the last many years.

The health care facilities working without anesthesia specialists also include six trauma centres established on major roads of the province to handle those injured in traffic accidents.

At the Kalar Kahar Trauma Centre, established following the rising number of fatal accidents occurring on the Lahore-Islamabad motorway, two posts of the anesthesia specialist were lying vacant for the last many years.

The medical experts say the unavailability of anaesthetists, particularly at the trauma centres, is a ‘criminal negligence’ as most of the people brought there following major road accidents required emergency surgeries within the “first golden hour” to save their lives. They lamented that the critically injured patients shifted to these centres are either handled by untrained staff or referred to hospitals.

64 posts of such specialists lying vacant in Punjab’s 20 districts

The experts says the anesthesiologists with specialisation in preoperative care, develop anesthetic plans for the patients undergoing surgeries and are considered backbone of any healthcare facility for their critical role in ensuring their safety.

An official says that all the 64 posts of the anaesthetists have been lying vacant since the last tenure of the PML-N in Punjab with Shahbaz Sharif as chief minister. He says its also for the second time that senior bureaucrat Ali Jan is serving as Punjab Primary & Secondary Healthcare Department secretary, but the anaesthetists’ slots in the THQ hospitals and six trauma centres are still vacant, which shows his lack of concern for the primary-level public sector health facilities.

An official report says total 64 anaesthetists posts were sanctioned for the 37 primary and secondary health care facilities by the Punjab government, but none of these slots were filled.

The hospitals working without anaesthetists were located in Rawalpindi, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Bhakar, Chakwal, Okara, Mandi Bahauddin, Jehlum, Khushab, Layyah, Lodhran, Rajanpur, Sargodha, Toba Tek Singh, Wazirabad etc.

The official says the government had approved Rs5,000 special allowance for anaesthetists against each procedure, in addition to their salary package.

Instead of hiring specialists for filling these slots, he says, the health department made alternate arrangement, inducting medics for two-year training course in anesthesia and posting them at these THQs hospitals.

Declaring it a “highly risky” arrangement, he says the department is playing with the lives of the patients by appointing the medics having two-year diploma in anesthesia at the primary level as only properly qualified and trained anesthesiologists can make preoperative assessment of the patients, give medical judgment about the best anesthesia plan for them, along with the appropriate medication and the type of surgeries they required.

“The anesthesiologist is also responsible for the well-being of the patients in postoperative care, when they emerge from the effects of anesthesia,” he said, adding that even assistants to the anesthesiologists need to be highly-skilled health professional, who implement anesthesia care plans.

He regretted that the appointment of medics having just two-year diploma in anesthesia reflected apathy of the health authorities towards the patients visiting the facilities located in far-flung areas of the province.

Published in Dawn, March 30th, 2023

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