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HFH rat-biting incident: Is suspending officials the only remedy?

November 29, 2012

RAWALPINDI, Nov 28: As it normally happens in cases under media scrutiny, heads are being rolled at the Holy Family Hospital (HFH) after the furore over the incident of a newborn being bitten by a rodent.

On Wednesday night, Rawalpindi Medical College (RMC) Principal Prof Dr Mussadiq Khan and HFH medical superintendent Dr Fayyaz Ahmed were made Officers on Special Duty (OSD) by the Punjab Chief Minister (CM) Shahbaz Sharif.

Their turn comes a day after the provincial health department suspended eight officials of HFH on the recommendations of a two-member committee formed by Punjab health secretary.

Undoubtedly, the incident has put a stain on the career of the RMC principal who is set to retire at the end of December 2012.

According to the press note released by the health department, CM Sharif has said that the responsibility for maintaining sanitary conditions in hospitals lies on the administration and has ordered stern action against the hospital administration for its failure to maintain it.The chief minister has also set up a high-level committee led by Special Assistant Khawaja Salman Rafique and comprising medical experts, health commissioner, WHO representative, doctors and other concerned persons to introduce institutional reforms and improvement of the efficiency of the health department.

The committee will submit its report within four weeks.

However, both the former chief of HFH and the doctors’ community at large believe that these measures are merely an eye-wash and not a permanent solution.

Former medical superintendent of HFH, Syed Abid Shah, opined: “The suspension of the chief of the hospital and additional medical superintendents is not the solution to the problem as these people will get salaries and other benefits while sitting at their homes.”

Mr Shah suggested that the government should outsource sanitation work at public hospitals.

“During my tenure in 2010, I gave a private company the contract to eliminate rodents from the HFH in collaboration with Punjab Agriculture Department,” he said.

Similarly, other doctors believe that things cannot be changed overnight, and the government should give time to the administration.

“The government should devise plans to avoid such incidents, rather than waking up after them,” said Dr Muhammad Haroon, Young Doctors Association (YDA) Punjab chairman, while talking to Dawn.

“The government wanted to hide its negligence with the transfer of the chiefs of the hospital and medical college. RMC principal is not directly linked to this incident,” he said.

He added that Mr Sharif should resign from the post as he was responsible for the overall bad condition of the health system in the province.

“The death of 18 people after consuming cough syrup revealed the negligence of the health department run under Punjab chief minister. We will go on strike if all the staff is not restored within 24 hours,” claimed the YDA Punjab chairman.

Meanwhile, the Punjab health department committee comprising of Executive District Officer Health Dr Zafar Iqbal Gondal and Rawalpindi Institute of Cardiology (RIC) Medical Superintendent Dr Shoaib Khan recommended short-term remedy in which the medical superintendent prepared a comprehensive plan to eradicate rodents and stray animals.

“The plan should be executed within three days and should be a regular feature on monthly basis,” it said.

For long-term planning, the committee has recommended that no one on night duty including supervisory staff be allowed to sleep, and all rest rooms dedicated to the supervisors at night be withdrawn.

All deputy medical superintendents and additional medical superintendents in evening and night shifts would be held responsible for any adverse event arising due to management failure in their respective shifts.

Furthermore, all administrative staff in morning, evening and night should conduct regular rounds and record and report to higher authorities, who should then perform desk analysis of these reports.

The committee has also asked hospitals to prepare their own plans, and the Punjab health department to prepare SoPs and protocols to control rodents in the hospitals.

“A monitoring cell should also be established in DG office to monitor such activities. The cell will also recommend remedial and punitive measures to DG health, secretary health in case of violation,” the committee’s recommendation included.