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Doctors’ aggression

January 04, 2013

WEDNESDAY’S scuffle at the District Headquarters Hospital in Gujranwala, in which members of the Young Doctors’ Association attacked hospital administrators and journalists, has proved that the problem of doctors’ conduct goes beyond disagreements about service structure. It is a matter of doctors failing to respect the basic norms of professional conduct and the critical nature of the service they perform in public-sector hospitals. In November last year the Punjab YDA and the provincial government had finally, after a months-long stand-off involving strikes, scuffles, arrests and even a murder case with the loss of a patient’s life, agreed on a new service structure. But Gujranwala doctors are still complaining about a number of issues, claiming non-payment of salaries, ad hoc transfers and that colleagues suspended earlier have not been reinstated. What they appear not to have learned from last year is that violence — and suspending their services at public hospitals, as they have done after Wednesday’s incident, thereby depriving the poor of essential treatment — is not the ideal solution to every new disagreement with administrators.

Differing points of view between doctors and those who pay and supervise them are inevitable, as in any profession. These will continue to come up from time to time. What will not be constructive is to deal with them by physically attacking administrators and the media each time, or by continuing to deprive the poor of medical services. That attitude may have succeeded in finally wresting compromises from the government on the service structure for doctors. But it also led to serious inconvenience for patients and damaged the reputation of the YDA. The conclusion to be drawn from those months is not that aggression succeeds, but that a less aggressive way to reach agreements needs to be found. Sadly, the YDA appears not to have learned that lesson.