RAWALPINDI, March 1: Young doctors working in the three hospitals run by the Punjab government in the city went on strike on Tuesday demanding increase in salaries, leaving thousands of patients unattended.
Called by the Young Doctors Association (YDA) of Punjab, the strike was observed in other cities too.
In Rawalpindi, the strikers snarled traffic around the Benazir Bhutto Hospital (BBH), the Holy Family Hospital (HFH) and the District Headquarters Hospital (DHH). They tried to stop their senior colleagues from working by locking them out but not with much success. The senior doctors attended to the patients hit by the strike.
Students of the Rawalpindi Medical College also joined the protest to demand the vacation of the girls' hostel that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) has been occupying for years.
More than 700 trainee doctors and house officers of the three hospitals and students of the RMC and the Islamic International Medical College staged a sit-in on the Benazir Bhutto Road for more than three hours.
The protesters were chanting slogans against the Punjab government, NAB and the health department.
“We will continue the strike till our demands are accepted,” Dr Umer Saeed, YDA Rawalpindi president, told Dawn . PML-N MNA Hanif Abbasi and senior officials pleaded with them but the doctors refused to end their strike.
Dr Saeed said a postgraduate trainee is paid Rs22,000 per month and a medical officer Rs25,000. These salaries were unfair, he said, claiming that even peons of high court get Rs50,000 per month.
At HFH and DHH, the striking doctors reportedly poured a sealing gum into the locks of senior doctors' rooms to stop them from working during strike. “Yes, some miscreants did that but we managed to break the locks,” said Dr Raja Shafiq, director emergency department of HFH.
Senior HFH doctors told reporters that a 40-member group of YDA pulled them out of their rooms as they were examining patients and locked the rooms. They said they continued to attend to the patients outside their locked rooms.
Same happened to some senior doctors at HFH's children ward. One of them sitting outside his locked room confided that he was checking patients when the striking doctors stormed into his room and pushed him out. “I fear they may come back and misbehave with me,” he said.
As the doctors gathered outside the BBH, traffic came to a halt on the main road. However, after talks with the police, the doctors went inside the hospital grounds.
Outside the hospital's Emergency, the young doctors made speeches, giving NAB a ten-day deadline to evacuate the girls' hostel. They said that at the start of this year NAB officials had promised to vacate the hostel by the end of February.
Most of the patients reporting to the three public hospitals during the strike failed to receive proper treatment.
“I have come from Chur Chowk but no one is providing me treatment,” Fareed Khan, who had fever, told Dawn outside the DHH.
Another distressed patient, Zaheer Shah, at HFH said he had been waiting for two hours for a doctor to turn up. “But there is no doctor here. I am suffering from allergy,” he said.
Dr Sher Ali Khan, medical superintendent of DHH, said only young doctors were on strike and the rest were on duty and examining patients. He said some 700 patients visited the hospital on Tuesday, against the daily average of more than 1,500.
HFH Director Emergency Dr Shafiq Sarwar said young doctors were on strike in all the departments except emergency. He said because of strike patients thronged the emergency and it was impossible for doctors to attend all of them. Dr Sarwar asked the young doctors to call off the strike.
In HFH, only 400 patients were treated on Tuesday against the daily average of 1,800 patients.
BBH Medical Superintendent Dr Asif Qadir Mir said except OPD, the doctors imparted duties in all other departments and provided treatment to patients. But he admitted that only 370 patients were treated because of the strike as the hospital's OPD on average daily provides treatment to 1500 patients.
Meanwhile, young doctors observed a partial strike and staged a peaceful protest in Attock to demand for increase in their salaries. About two dozen doctors of DHQ Hospital took out a rally, which was joined by their senior colleagues.
As the protesters gathered outside the main gate of DHQ Hospital at Attock, Kamra Road, traffic was suspended for sometime.