Anesthetist shortage cripples hospitals in Punjab

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Muzaffar Ali

Lahore—They work behind the scenes but play a pivotal role in surgeries. Yet, anesthetists are very limited in number in several hospitals across Punjab and due to the non-availability of anesthetist untrained and unqualified paramedics are being used to give anesthesia to patients in state-run hospitals which virtually endangering patient lives.
When it comes to hospitals that are supposed to decrease the referrals to tertiary care hospitals, the staff shortage poses the biggest challenge. A doctor wishing anonymity said, “Most of the post-operative mortality is not because something went wrong in the surgery but because not enough and appropriate care is provided to the patient when he or she is in a critical condition. Experts are of the opinion that authorities still have the primitive concept about the role of anaesthetics. “An anaesthetic has multiple roles to play in a hospital setting, apart from the commonly believed ‘putting a person to sleep for surgeries.
Doctors say the number of anaesthetists should be in relation to the number of surgical units in a hospital. An anaesthetist in a government medical college hospital said peripheral hospitals were facing severe shortage of anaesthetists. “There are MBBS doctors trained in anaesthesia to perform caesarean sections to fill the gaps and with caesarean surgeries on the rise, more anaesthetists are the need of the hour.
Majority of the anesthetists prefer to go to serve in private hospitals where they earn more money easily as compared to the state-run hospitals and that is the biggest reason of leaving the government jobs which augmented the already pathetic situation in public hospitals. Another reason of shortage of anesthetists is lengthy procedure of inducting an anesthetist in public hospital which is creating hurdles in way of filling the gap.
Taking desperate steps to overcome the severe shortage of anesthetists, Primary & Secondary Health Care Department Punjab has authorized Medical Superintendents (MS) of District Headquarters Hospital (DHQ) and Tehsil Headquarters Hospital (THQ) to engage anesthetist doctors from private sector to provide services to public hospitals while Rs, 2500 per case will be given as service charges.
“Earlier, there was only general surgery. Today, there are several branches, including neurosurgery, cardiac, surgical gastroenterology, urology, plastic, paediatric, geriatric and vascular surgery. The branches have increased and anaesthetists cater to all these specialities. The number of anaesthetists has definitely increased but not in proportion to the increase in surgical specialities,” said Dr Ramzan Qureshi, a senior government doctor. He said the statistics shows that only 2,445 anaesthetists were registered for an estimated 191.7 million people in the country which is very pathetic according to the proportion of the population.
Today’s anaesthetists not only administer anaesthesia in operation theatres but are also involved in painless delivery, resuscitation in emergency, pain clinics and sedation for MRI/CT Scan besides managing intensive care units.

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