LAHORE: The nurses working in all the public sector hospitals of Punjab boycotted their duties in the indoor and outdoor wards and took to the streets to exert pressure on the government for the release of their colleague who was arrested in the wake of deaths of three children at the Khanewal District Headquarters Hospital due to reaction of antibiotic injection.

In Lahore, the protesting nurses on Thursday gathered on The Mall and demanded arrest of Punjab Health Secretary Ali Jan over supply of “faulty” antibiotic injections to the DHQ hospital, instead of the staff nurse.

They raised slogans against the government’s action of arresting the staff nurse, Aqsa Afaq, calling it “abuse of power” by the police. They were also carrying placards inscribed with the slogans demanding release and justice for their colleague who was arrested in a case registered against her by Khanewal police under section 322 of the Pakistan Penal Code (PPC) for her alleged negligence.

The nurses kept The Mall blocked for traffic for many hours to register their protest and warned to further intensify the agitation in the days to come if their colleague was not released.

Demand arrest of health secretary for ‘flawed’ drug supply

The major teaching hospitals of Lahore faced a crisis-like situation as a majority of the nurses refused to resume duties in indoor and outdoor wards, and even in the intensive care units (ICUs).

The Mayo Hospital, Services, Sir Ganga Ram, Jinnah, the Children, the Lahore General Hospital and the Punjab Institute of Cardiology were among the facilities where the nurses went on a strike on Thursday.

The protesting nurses declared the action of Khanewal police an attempt to cover up the negligence of the health authorities responsible for the provision of safe drugs to the public sector hospitals.

They argued that how a nurse could be blamed for administering a drug supplied officially, if it turns out to be faulty.

They accused the health authorities of introducing a flawed system of procurement and supply of drugs to the state-run hospitals and demanded suspension of Punjab health secretary over the “scam”.

“If you want to take legal action over the Khanewal incident, the health secretary should be suspended and arrested,” a protesting nurse on The Mall demanded.

Talking to media persons, she said the nurses take care of patients in the hospitals round the clock, but they are among the most vulnerable employees in the health sector. The doctors only recommend the medicines, while the nurses administer these to the admitted patients, she added.

On the other hand, the sufferings of the thousands of the poor patients admitted to various public sector hospitals increased manifold as the nurses withdrew their services from the indoor and outdoor wards and left them unattended.

The doctors refused to discharge the duties of the staff nurses as they were also unhappy over the arrests and departmental action against their senior colleagues in Sahiwal Teaching Hospital following a fire incident, claiming lives of 11 newborns.The situation resulting from the nurses protest also exposed the inefficiency of administrations of the major hospitals in Lahore as they failed to make alternate arrangements for the patients care, and largely played the role of silent spectators.

Meanwhile, the Khanewal DHQ Hospital was completely shut by nurses and other employees, forcing the attendants of the poor patients to shift them back to their homes or to expensive private facilities for their treatment.

Published in Dawn, June 21st, 2024

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