Impending healthcare crisis

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THE Government of Punjab and medical and paramedical staff of medical institutions in the province are at logger
heads over promulgation of Punjab Medical Teaching Institutions (Reforms) Ordinance 2019 and fearing the backlash the authorities have banned all sorts of political activities, gatherings on the premises of hospitals/educational institutions. However, the Young Doctors Association (YDA) and Grand Health Alliance (GHA) have vowed to resist implementation of the Ordinance that they view as virtual privatization of public sector medical institutions and loss of status of doctors and staff as civil servants.
A visible improvement has been witnessed in the working and delivery of service by government hospitals in Punjab over the last several years but there was definitely need for further improvement in the face of several loopholes that are being exploited by some unscrupulous elements. Therefore, no one would oppose reforms in medical institutions aimed at enhancing efficiency and improving standards of service. With a professional like Dr Yasmin Rashid as incharge of the health sector in the province, one expected far-reaching changes in the working of the healthcare system in Punjab. However, the way this objective is being realized is questionable as it amounts to compromising the fundamental philosophy of provision of free but quality health facilities to the people. Protesting doctors and staff have a point in saying that running of public sector medical institutions in a private manner amounts to depriving poor patients of their basic right to free-of-cost healthcare as majority of people cannot afford private treatment. Their point is justified as the Ordinance empowers the private Board of Governors of these institutions to outsource services, hire employees, fire staff and provide services on free, subsidized or on full payment, depending on the budget. As the Government is in the habit of dragging its feet on provision of required finances to both medical and educational institutions, the Board would have no choice but to minimize free-of-cost services and increase fee and treatment charges that would amount to leave the poor at the mercy of circumstances. There is, therefore, urgent need for the provincial government to review the Ordinance in close consultation with all stakeholders, safeguard interests of both patients and staff and pre-empt disruption of medical services to the people as the staff is threatening to launch a movement after Ashura.