It was a cold wintry day. Life appeared to be normal; not so for Zohra Bibi, a 60-year-old kidney patient, who was condemned to wait impatiently on the floor of the Jinnah Hospital.
The poor woman had earlier been moved around for treatment — from a public hospital in Kasur to Arif Memorial Hospital which referred her to Lahore General Hospital (LGH), where she was packed off to the Punjab Institute of Cardiology (PIC) and, soon after, to Services Hospital. It is astounding how she didn’t get the due attention at all these places. Reportedly, the senior doctors gave her a miss, and she was left to the mercy of inexperienced doctors. In the absence of a bed for her, she had to lie down on the floor of the hospital verandah. Eventually, she expired.
Her death left many questions in its wake, about the performance of the Health department and the governance of “Khadim-e-Aala,” Chief Minister of Punjab, Mian Shahbaz Sharif.
When the video of the ill-fated Zohra Bibi fighting for her life on the hospital floor, became viral on social media and, later, on mainstream TV channels, the CM took notice of it.
As he is known to normally react to such incidents, the CM immediately ordered suspension of Dr Zafar Yousaf, the Medical Superintendent (MS) of Jinnah Hospital. Some senior professors and other doctors also had to face the same fate.
The suspension of the MS, Jinnah Hospital, and other doctors has elicited a mixed response, the most common being that it is a cosmetic measure at best.
Many people are of the view that the CM wants to give the impression that he has zero tolerance for negligent government servants and that quality healthcare for citizens is his government’s top priority. Their objection is that the suspended doctors will soon be reinstated but nothing concrete will be done to provide the missing facilities at the hospital.
Talking to TNS, Akhlaq Ahmad Khan, the spokesman for Secretary Health, Punjab, rejects the idea that it is eyewash. “It’s a punishment for the doctors’ show of criminal negligence.
“The CM had no authority to hang them; he could only order their suspension.”
According to Khan, the MS was suspended because of his mismanagement. “If there were limited number of beds at the hospital, the deceased lady could have been provided with a mattress. There were many mattresses in the store room of the hospital. Besides, Zohra Bibi was not attended by the senior doctors. It was inhuman that a patient died because she was not attended by the specialists.
“No doctor ought to refuse seeing a patient. Period.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Dr Altamash Kharal, General Secretary, Young Doctors Association (YDA), believes suspension of doctors is no solution. “It’s a cover-up for the CM’s failure to deal with a serious issue like this.”
He says the death of Zohra Bibi is both tragic and inhuman; it shows how a patient is divested of dignity. “She [Zohra Bibi] was not offered a bed because there was a shortage [of beds]. It’s a common problem with the public hospitals that a bed is occupied by two or more patients.
“It is the responsibility of the Punjab government to arrange more beds, not the doctors’. It is also the government’s job to arrange drugs, clinical test facilities, and human resource for the welfare of patients. But the hospitals across the Punjab remain overcrowded.
“The total number of beds in Lahore’s government hospitals is 12,000,” he reveals. “Out of these, Mayo Hospital has 2,800; Jinnah and LGH have 1,500 each; Services, 1,200; Ganga Ram, 1,000; and Children’s Hospital has 700. Around 60,000 patients visit the Outdoor Patient Departments (OPDs) and Emergency daily. Clearly, the patients’ inflow far exceeds the availability of beds.”
He suggests that the CM should shift his focus from Orange Line Metro Train to healthcare. He also insists that the doctors should not allow the government and bureaucracy to shift the onus of their own failure to them.
“The babus (bureaucrats) cannot run the health department,” he declares. “It should be handed over to the doctors who know how to run the system.
Akhlaq Ahmad Khan does not agree with Kharal. He says the department is doing its best to provide health facilities to the people, “We are spending billions to improve the facilities at government hospitals,” he asserts.
Interestingly, the spokesman of Secretary Health blames the shortage of beds at the public hospitals to “the ever-increasing population of the city.
“Besides, patients from other parts of the province also come down for treatment; this adds burden on the hospitals.”
He also reveals that with the help of Private Public Partnership, 200 beds have recently been made available for the welfare of people at the PIC.
Kharal counters the argument made by Khan, saying that the “ever increasing population is a lame excuse. The government must set up new hospitals and increase the number of beds according to the growing need.”