Lahore: Over 1,000-bed Shaikh Zayed Hospital (SZH) Lahore has virtually collapsed as its all operating theatres and labs have been shut down and the supply of all life-saving medicines, including Isoflurane, was stopped by the pharmaceutical companies due to pending liabilities of about Rs3bn.

Another most disturbing part of the development is that the institute has no funds to pay salaries to thousands of its employees, including medical teachers, young doctors, nurses, paramedics and security guards.

All the employees of the only mega teaching institute run by the federal government in Lahore are flexing their muscles to go for the extreme steps after the administration expressed helplessness to pay the salaries.

Giving a background perspective to the institute, the senior medics said the hospital was a ‘gift’ for the people of Pakistan by the then president of the UAE, Shaikh Zayed bin Sultan Al-Nahyan, who had donated it at that time Rs300m (billions in today’s currency) when a trust was established in 1973.

A gift from UAE, hospital in deep crisis with Rs3bn liabilities; surgeries, tests stopped; employees unpaid for months; federal govt turns a blind eye to crisis

An official, privy to the information, told Dawn the prestigious institute has turned into a ‘sinking Titanic’ as every section of the teaching hospital has virtually collapsed. He said all the companies stopped supply of the life-saving Isoflurane, the backbone of any public or private health facility, to the hospital. The drug has never been in short supply even when the hospital faced a crisis multiple times in the past.

In absence of the drug, no elective surgery was performed at the SZH for the last two days when around 40 to 50 elective surgeries were conducted daily in the hospital in routine. The operations were related to the cardiac, orthopedic, ENT, neuro, kidney, liver etc and for the first time, none of them could be performed during the last two days due to unavailability of Isoflurane and other live-saving medicines at the hospital, the official informed with heavy heart.

The official further said no angiography was performed for the last three months due to pending liabilities of Rs40m as the company had stopped providing ‘films’. Similarly, the main and other labs of the hospital stopped performing all kinds of tests, including CBC (complete blood count), blood culture, LFTs (live function tests), hepatitis B, C etc when the firms stopped supplying kits due to the pending dues.

A company refused to supply Isoflurane as the hospital was unable to pay Rs1.2m dues only which were pending for the last one year and another amount Rs0.3m which could not be cleared since 2016.

The hospital has stopped performing X-rays, a much-needed facility imperative due to the influx of patients visiting with bone, head and other fractures as the company concerned stopped supplying films about three weeks back due to pending dues of Rs30m.

“No salary could be paid to over 50 security guards of the hospital for the last five months,” the official said.

Talking about the apathy of the federal government and the health authorities concerned, the official lamented a last crucial meeting of the board of governors (BoG) of the institute was held on Sept 27 in Islamabad as a last resort to pull the ‘dying institute’ out of the current crisis.

“It was the ultimate attempt to get a second lease of life for the Shaikh Zayed Hospital Lahore,” he said, adding that the top hierarchy was informed about the deepening crisis and the possibility of closure of the institute if the required funds were not provided on an emergency basis. Unfortunately, not a single agenda item out of 11 was finalised by the federal health authorities despite repeated requests submitted in the meeting.

All the items, even those looking for urgent decisions, were referred to the various committees formed by the health authorities and no committee could meet so far, which led to the closure of several critical facilities of the institute, he said.

SZH dean/chairman Prof Waqar Ahmad and administrator Dr Akbar Hussain described the situation very alarming. Both confirmed to Dawn about the closure of the institute’s many critical facilities, including operating theatres and labs.

Dr Akbar said the pending liabilities had increased to Rs3bn, which led to the suspension of the drugs’ supply to the institute.

Prof Waqar the SZH had been facing financial issues for the last many years and situation had now got from bad to worse these days.

“We had demanded about Rs7bn from the federal government which in return allocated only Rs3.4bn for the financial year 2022-2023.”

Following the situation, the institute could not pay the bills, he said and added that many pharmaceutical companies and other vendors refused to supply medicines and surgical items.

“In financial year 2023-2024, our requirement was Rs7.33bn but the federal government allocated only Rs3.5bn, which was not sufficient even for seven-month salaries.

“Now the hospital has o funds to pay salaries to all the employees for the month of November and December and it is unable to get emergency medicines as the default has reached to Rs3bn to be paid to the drug companies only,” Dr Waqar lamented.

Published in Dawn, November 24th, 2023

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