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LAHORE: Doctors stopped treating patients even in the emergency and indoor wards of major hospitals in Lahore after police pounced upon leaders of their young colleagues holding a meeting in the Services Hospital late on Sunday night and arrested over 40 doctors.

The police action deepened the crisis Punjab is facing because of the 14-day strike by young doctors when the medical staff in the emergency and other wards of the major hospitals, including the largest, Mayo Hospital, stopped work after hearing about the arrest of their colleagues and left the hospitals.

The situation was especially grave in the Punjab Institute of Cardiology where heart patients are treated, or come for urgent medical assistance. The patients were crying for help but there was no-one to attend to them. The administration called senior doctors to cope with the situation.

Police stormed the hospital just after a general council meeting of the Young Doctors Association had concluded. Most of the doctors attending the meeting ran to nearby hostels but were arrested after police broke open the locked doors of their rooms.

The arrested doctors included almost all leaders of the YDA. They were dragged to vans and taken to police stations amid considerable confusion among patients and their attendants.

Police had earlier prepared lists of the doctors spearheading the strike in Punjab hospitals, kept an eye on their movement, secured their home addresses and located their possible hideouts, like hostels.

A police officer said over 40 doctors, most of them YDA leaders, had been arrested and more arrests were likely.

He said the doctors had assembled in the hostel of the Services Hospital and planned to address a press conference.

He said police were also being dispatched to the hospitals where doctors were reported to have stopped work.

According to sources, termination of service orders were also issued to at least 25 YDA members.

Emergency and other services were suspended in hospitals in Gujranwala and Multan after reports of the police crackdown reached there.

Earlier in the day, the provincial health department finalised a plan to run outpatient departments of the teaching hospitals through temporarily arranged doctors after no breakthrough was achieved in talks held between striking doctors and the principals of medical institutions.

Again rejecting an offer for mediation by the principals, the young doctors refused to end the strike ‘unconditionally’ and said they would only negotiate directly with the chief minister on the service structure issue.

After there rounds of fruitless talks with the principals, the YDA handed over to them their three demands for presentation to the chief minister.

The health authorities handed over lists of 40 to 45 doctors to the head of each teaching hospital for OPD duties in the absence of the striking doctors. The EDOs provided 30 doctors each from district and tehsil hospitals, besides army doctors and newly recruited women medical officers.

Police had been alerted to provide security to these doctors at the OPDs.

The sources said heads of the teaching institutions told the young doctors during the talks held in the Lahore General Hospital that the Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif was ready for negotiations to address their legitimate demands but they should first end the strike unconditionally.

The Postgraduate Medical Institute’s Dr Tariq Salahuddin led the team of principals.

“The doctors are ready to end the strike within minutes but we want to present our legitimate demands directly to Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif,” Dr Mudasar Razaq of the YDA told Dawn.

He said the doctors had submitted a proposed service structure to the health authorities but they had presented a fabricated picture of financial impact to the chief minister.

Dr Mudasar said the YDA had dropped their other demands so that their main demand is acceptable to the government in view of its financial situation.

“Our major demand is one-scale upgrading of all doctors,” he said, adding that the move would cost only Rs950 million. The second demand, with an estimated cost of Rs760 million, is that stipend of postgraduate residence should be equal to the initial salary of a medical officer and the stipend of a house officer to the salary of a newly recruited medical officer (BS-18).

Dr Mudasar said the third demand, for health professional allowance equal to basic salary, would have a financial impact of about Rs5.8 billion.

“We are ready to reduce the financial impact on this demand through dialogue,” the YDA representative said.