1996. This year marks the formal inauguration of Punjab’s second largest teaching hospital and the last tertiary care hospital of Lahore to date, that is Jinnah Hospital. With a population increase from 5.4 million in 1998 to 10.4 million in 2016, only 300 beds in two increments have been added to the initial count, making a total of 1250 beds in this hospital. With three patients resting on each bed, should a person lying on floor be a lurid and appalling sight? With only 20 beds available in each emergency ward, would it be fine to admit only 20 patients, 1 for each bed? Would this practice of doctors not be proclaimed as inhumane by flag-bearers of human rights? With three patients lying on one bed and one on the floor, would the death of a patient on bed be less deplorable than the patient who died on cold floor on January 2, 2017? Had the same patient died on a not-so-cosy and actually dirty bed in the hospital, would the chief minister have taken notice of the incident? Against whom has he taken the notice? The doctors who are themselves underpaid employees of the government who just happened to be the front men dealing with the patients? The former governments that failed to add to the system tertiary hospitals in proportion with the increasing population? Or the currently ruling government itself that has been unable to do the aforementioned despite being in power in Punjab since 2008?
Taking notices, dismissing medical superintendents, blaming doctors, blocking roads, and protesting in front of the provincial assembly have been habitually practised in routine on the occurrence of any such incident. Out of all these, damning doctors and paramedical staff is the easiest because they can be easily identified in white coats and uniforms, walking here and there with stethoscopes hung around their necks or trays held in their hands, respectively. I am not denying that several incidents have been reported where patients died or suffered grave losses owing to uncalled for negligence shown by doctors, but the fact that there exists a blind trust between a patient and his doctor is equally undeniable. Regardless of the consequence, the patient there and then does show undaunted faith in the doctor that is allotted to him or he chooses himself. This is obviously realised and acknowledged by both the patient and the doctor. So why would any doctor show any scale of heedlessness and neglect towards his patient despite knowing the dire results he might have to face, including blaming and shaming? No one, exactly no one, on this planet can challenge a doctor if he resolves to harm his patients. What keeps him from doing so is his morality which is now on the verge of being quelled due to unreasonable and unmindful allegations that they have to face every single time. Our media showed a 60-year-old woman dying on the floor, but no cameraman and reporter dared enter one of the wards to show the true picture of the only beds and facilities available in the hospital for the general public.
One general misconception that public has about doctors is factually based on widespread mistrust that exists in our society. Being a part of a nepotistic society, patients widely suspect doctors of giving undue favours to their relatives who come for treatment. They think that these relatives are sent for check-up as well as surgeries before those who come without a reference. The state of mind in which such accusations are made is totally understandable, but all what needs to be done is to roam around the emergency of the hospital and discover the realities. The unfortunate harsh verity is that there exist only two operation theatres for general surgery in the very Jinnah Hospital we are talking about. Yes, only two operation theatres for thousands of patients that daily visit this hospital in pursuit of treatment. What favouritism can possible operate under such circumstances? And why are only the doctors blamed for alleged cold-blooded behaviour? Why patients are not held liable for the height of incorporation they show towards their fellow countrymen? Not a single person willingly shares the bed with others. Why do they forget it is not their personal property but a limited facility that has been provided by the government? Why does a person with hands bruised while sharpening twines for kites demand same attention which is compulsorily required by the one wounded on neck by those very kite strings? Upon witnessing the latter being treated first due to seriousness of injury, why can the former not simply wait for his turn?
Every camera showed the female patient taking her last breaths on the cold floor, but no one dared show the state of patients lying on beds. Instead of highlighting this issue as a failure to provide adequate number of beds and medical facilities resulting from inattention of government since ever, our media portrayed it as a mistake committed by doctors owing to dereliction of duty. Before inculpating doctors one should understand that their sole responsibility is to diagnose and prescribe treatment. Both of these aspects are in turn dependent on the infrastructure and equipment provided by government. If not rendered available, doctors cannot do anything to treat and save lives. This is what we all need to realise; doctors are as much humans as we are. If this incident has moved us, it also has equally, in fact more intensely, affected the doctors. However, they are as helpless as we are. They are as much part of the system as we are. When we cannot assign fault to ourselves, we should not put it on the shoulders of doctors. They are bound to work in the system that has been provided to them. Therefore, if notice has to be taken, it is definitely not against the hospital administration.
The writer is a student of Biotechnology with an interest in current affairs, politics and journalism