Fifty-year-old Muhammad Akbar was made to sit on wheel chair for over 12 hours in the newly established Emergency Ward of the Punjab Institute of Cardiology. Ironically, the ward had only recently upgraded its services and operations, thanks to heavy donations by private businessmen and industrialists together who came to be known as Friends of PIC, or FOPIC.
The old man had been brought in all the way from Kasur, in a very critical condition. As he felt severe pain in his chest, he was referred to the PIC because the services he needed weren’t available in the hospitals of his hometown.
Akbar was duly attended in the Emergency Ward but he wasn’t provided a bed. His face had turned death-pale. His young son, who was attending him, told TNS that he feared his father would not survive when he was being transported from Kasur, because his condition was too serious. Fortunately they were able to make it to here.
There are many other patients who can be seen lying or sitting around in the emergency of the PIC, while their attendants run errands and wait for the doctor to arrive. The doctors are there but in a very small number, compared to the influx of patients in the said ward. Quite often, the wait for the doctor turns into a contest between the attendants of patients.
The current Emergency Ward at the PIC was built to deal with the load of patients. It was believed that by increasing the number of beds to 200 — earlier, it was 14! — in two phases would improve the situation. No one had predicted the situation to turn out the way it did.
According to Ahmed Altaf, Secretary, FOPIC Trust, who represents the donors, “It was after seeing the problems of the patients coming in from different parts of Punjab that our 40 resourceful industrialists and businessmen decided to donate 200 beds and help install latest equipment in the hospital emergency.
“So far, 100 beds have been handed over to the administration [of the PIC], while another 100 beds shall be provided by the end of this year. The four-storey building, being completed at a cost of Rs500 million, donated by the FOPIC, shall have 50 beds each on every floor.”
Talking about the other facilities at the hospital, Altaf said, “The PIC now offers primary angioplasty which, if done within the first one or two hours, can actually save your heart from damage. This technology wasn’t available earlier.”
There is a general perception that the regular staff of the PIC does not cooperate with the FOPIC and considers them outsiders. Altaf rejected it as baseless, and said that the “administration is very cooperative, and holds regular meetings [with the FOPIC members] every Friday, to address the concerns and issues that come up from time to time.”
On the other hand, Dr Salman Haseeb, Secretary General, Young Doctors Association (YDA), Punjab says that around 1,000 patients visit the Emergency Ward of the PIC in a day. “It is not possible for the administration to provide beds to each and every one of them. Sometimes the doctors lose their cool because of the extraordinary burden. The behaviour of the attendants also adds to their angst.
“Presently, the situation is such that they have one doctor for 10 patients in the Emergency. At times, one doctor is dealing with 30-40 patients together. We have raised our demand for more doctors to be inducted. We went on strike for this also, but nothing came out of it.”
Haseeb says that there are cardiac wards in Sheikh Zayed Hospital, Rahim Yar Khan; Nishtar Hospital, Multan; Mayo Hospital and Jinnah Hospital, Lahore; and so on, but they do not have modern machinery. “So, the doctors there refer their heart patients to the PIC. This increases the load of patients.”
He also complains of health being the lowest priority for the Punjab government which is investing only in projects like Metro Bus and Orange Line.
He demands that cardiac emergencies “should be set up in all district hospitals, on an urgent basis. These must be equipped with the latest technology, such as angiography machines. Too many deaths occur due to heart diseases; the government must look at this issue.”
He says one out of every four people is suffering from diabetes and the situation is no different when it comes to hypertension (high blood pressure). These people are at great risk of developing heart problems such as angina, cardiac arrest, coronary micro vascular disease, heart failure, cardiovascular disease, coronary artery disease etc.”
Akhlaq Ali Khan, Spokesperson, Department of Health, Punjab, is of the view that “Patients from all over the country come to the PIC for treatment. This is proof of the trust that is won by the health department of Punjab.”
Khan reveals that the government of Punjab provides Rs40 billion to the PIC on annual basis for the welfare of patients.
He also hails the steps taken by the FOPIC, but insists that it is the government that hires the staff and pay them big salaries along with free medicines. “What I am trying to say is that the [PIC’s] running expenses are huge and have to be met on a regular basis.”
It is alleged that the Wazirabad Institute of Cardiology (WIC) was not given due attention or made functional because it had been announced by the former chief minister of Punjab Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi.
Khan rubbishes this allegation, “The WIC is very much functional. The doctors are doing even angiography there. Only major operations such as bypass are not carried out because there aren’t any cardiac surgeons.
“No highly qualified cardiac surgeon wants to work the in WIC,” Akhlaq Ali Khan adds. “We’ve announced vacancies many a time but no one applied for the posts. Now that isn’t our fault, is it?”