Clash between doctors, police erupts in Sahiwal after action on 11 infants’ deaths

Published June 15, 2024
A face-off between police and doctors on the premises of the Sahiwal Teaching Hospital on June 14. — Dawn
A face-off between police and doctors on the premises of the Sahiwal Teaching Hospital on June 14. — Dawn

SAHIWAL: Police and doctors and paramedics clashed at the Sahiwal Teaching Hospital after Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz dismissed four senior doctors, including the medical superintendent (MS), from service for negligence and ordered their arrest during her visit to the hospital on Friday.

She was at the hospital to take stock of the situation after the death of 11 infants, most them newborns, in the fire incident in the paediatric ward of the hospital on June 9. The fire had broken out due to a short circuit in the air-conditioning system of the ward.

The CM’s visit was anticipated for the last two days. Despite hospital staff attributing deaths to medical reasons, various independent inquiries and CCTV footage proved otherwise. The babies’ condition worsened after being relocated during the fire from the three-storey paediatric ward to the emergency ward in a rush while fire extinguishers were not in working condition.

The teaching hospital’s doctors who faced the CM’s wrath were the hospital’s MS Akhter Hussain, Deputy MS Dr Usman Anwar, Assistant MS Dr Umer and Sahiwal Medical College Principal Prof Dr Imran Hasan.

CM sacks MS, three other senior doctors, orders their arrest during her visit; police baton charge protesters; dozens injured

CM’s visit and inquiries

An official told Dawn that the CM visited the hospital when the findings of an inquiry report of the institute into the fire incident declared ‘everything ok’ while the facts revealed in separate independent inquiries were different.

During her two-and-a-half-hour-long meeting, Maryam Nawaz herself reviewed the findings of four inquiry committees. She saw the CCTV footage and mobile phone videos and rejected the hospital administration’s reports, calling them inaccurate.

She criticised the hospital administration for the non-functional fire equipment and fire extinguishers, questioning the hospital administration why expired equipment was not replaced.

She said many fire extinguishers were installed just as decoration pieces and no one bothered to replace them to deal with any emergency or save the lives of the children when the fire broke out in the nursery unit of the hospital.

The CM was disturbed when the investigations suggested that most of the fire extinguishers had expired in April and the administration did not bother to replace them despite warnings by the staff concerned.

Multiple inquiries suggested that the standard operating procedures (SOPs) during shifting the babies were not followed and the negligence led to most of the deaths of the babies who had breathed their last during the treatment in other wards of the hospital where they were largely left unattended.

After listening to the inquiry findings, the CM dismissed the ‘OK reports’ as rubbish and contrary to the facts. She held the senior admin officers and doctors of the hospital responsible for the deaths of the minor children and ordered the termination of the four senior doctors in the administration of the hospital, including the MS and principal.

Clash between police and doctors

When Sahiwal DPO Faisal Shahzad and his contingent moved to arrest the doctors on the orders of the CM, a confrontation erupted between the police, hospital doctors and paramedics. Doctors chanted slogans against the government.

Eyewitnesses said the situation escalated quickly, leading to a baton charge of the doctors and paramedics by the police. The clash allegedly resulted in injuries to two dozen doctors and 30 paramedics.

There were reports that as the CM left the institute, the young doctors attacked her cavalcade, which led to scuffles between the doctors and the police. More than 300 patients in the outpatient department were watching the scenes from the corridors and windows of the hospital.

Dr Waqar, dealing with the injured doctors and patients in the emergency ward, told Dawn that three doctors were in critical condition. After the clash, 10 more doctors were arrested for resisting arrests of their colleagues and violence.

The Young Doctors Association (YDA) led the protest, criticising the CM’s decision to arrest the senior doctors. It threatened to shut down all emergencies of public sector hospitals across Punjab if the detained doctors were not released.

The confrontation and subsequent protests caused disruption to the hospital services, leaving over 500 patients, including women and children, unattended. The emergency ward was particularly affected as the YDA announced its closure until the release of their colleagues from police custody.

Dr Usama, the district head of the YDA, said the termination of services of the senior doctors was fine but arresting the principal and senior administration staff was unjustifiable.

However, in a late-night press conference, he demanded the withdrawal of termination letters issued to the doctors. He also demanded action against the police officers involved in the baton charge of doctors and paramedics.

Meanwhile, YDA Punjab President Dr Shoaib Niazi called an emergent meeting that condemned the arrests of his fellows in Sahiwal. He warned the government of shutting down all the state hospitals of the province.

As the situation escalated, DPO Faisal Shahzad held rounds of negotiations with the senior doctors.

He told Dawn that no doctors, including four senior management officers of the hospital and 10 protesters, were in police custody now as they had been released on orders of the Punjab government.

During her visit, CM Maryam Nawaz met with the parents of the affected children, distributed compensation cheques and inquired about their health.

(Asif Chaudhry from Lahore also contributed to this report).

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