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Doctors’ strike

July 07, 2012

THE young doctors’ firebrand trade unionism for an improved service structure entered a new, crucial phase on Saturday. The Lahore High Court asked them to reopen all departments at public hospitals on Monday, suspending all actions of the Punjab government against the strikers. A day earlier the LHC had ordered opening of the emergency wards, a step the young doctors had conditioned on the release of their colleagues. Particularly contentious is the booking of four doctors charged with murder following the death of a child under treatment at Mayo Hospital in Lahore. The parents need justice but the doctors argue the murder clause cannot be legally invoked against them. While this is for the court to decide, efforts for an end to the excruciating protest in Punjab’s hospitals will be dogged by this case as well as by other factors that have been allowed to be at play for far too long.

The affair has been badly mishandled. The government is guilty of underestimating the realities that spawned the protest and acting as an ignorant but tough taskmaster. The doctors suffered gravely because their organisation lacked the discipline seen in unions. These oft-cited factors remain relevant as the strikers sit down to plan their future course in the light of the LHC’s orders. There are not just two sets of demands that are at variance here; there are also altogether contrasting manuals for the running of hospitals. When such a clash takes place, a new rule book must emerge. That will be the ultimate result of this doctors’ drive, one which will only begin to take shape after the current hostilities give way to a clear-headed, dispassionate discussion. The two positions have been overstated. There is little sense in prolonging the matter at the cost of patients who have already paid a heavy price for the stand-off.