Health Practitioners’ Absenteeism

My Editorial for Balochistan Times on 3rd May, 2019

Two sectors that had remained the top priority of the governments during the past decade are health and education. However, if objectively dissected, these two sectors remain most pregnant with problems. When and how these two Augean Stables of Balochistan would be cleansed is for the government in seat to answer but in a latest development, the Medical Superintendent (MS) of Civil Hospital Quetta Doctor Salim Abro was seen in some action. According to news reports he paid a surprise visit to various departments of the hospital and found many doctors and paramedics absent from their duty on 10 am in the morning shift. As a result, 4 were terminated from the services and 10 others were suspended in action. It is hoped that this vigilance would be maintained in the days to come as Public Sector Hospitals in Quetta are notorious for chronic absenteeism and at a cost too high for the masses of this hapless city and province.

The chronic absenteeism of the doctors and paramedics may not seem a great problem to the medical fraternity and they may also have many justifications for it ranging from security to conducive working environment but let it be clear that joining any public service is an individual’s own choice whatever the circumstances may be; therefore, lame excuses cannot work at the cost of tax-payers lives! Perhaps, the Quetta Commission Inquiry Report by Justice Qazi Faez Isa in the wake of the incident of 8th August, 2016 is an eye-opener for all as to what grave consequences may be faced by the chronic absenteeism of health practitioners.

The report says that on that fateful day, a large number of doctors, nurses, dispensers and paramedics who ought to have been on duty in the morning shift on August 8th, 2016, were absent without explanation and in the absence of a credible attendance marking system, the mobile phone data of the Hospital’s staff was checked by an intelligence agency to ascertain the whereabouts of the Hospital staff and the results that emerged were shocking: 81 doctors, 18 nurses and 15 dispensers and paramedics were found to be absent, whilst the presence of an additional 52 doctors was considered “doubtful”. Imagine if this army of doctors were present on that day, how many valuable lives could have been saved.

The world, in essence, has transformed from manual attendance systems to the biometric attendance system and many institutions in Quetta have already adopted this practice but what story the Quetta Commission Report says about efforts of installation of a biometric system is equally pathetic and shameful. It says that a biometric system was installed in 2014 in Civil Hospital Quetta but those who found it a threat to their habitual and chronic absenteeism, including doctors and paramedics, attacked the contractor’s employee on 15th May, 2014 who was collecting data of Hospital staff to feed into the system to make it operational. They also grabbed the laptop which contained the data that had already been collected, and threw it outside the office of the Medical Superintendent after damaging it. Surprisingly, neither was the system repaired and made functional nor the attackers disciplined, or criminally prosecuted, even though the MS had informed the Secretary Health about the incident

What civilised world we are living and how education has transformed our behaviour into better human beings is for the readers to judge. However, we have some questions from the incumbent government: why were these attackers not criminally prosecuted? Are they more powerful than state? Why biometric systems were not later installed in the two biggest hospitals of Quetta—the Sandeman Hospital and Bolan Medical Complex and Teaching Hospital?

If things are really desired to be placed in the right direction, tough decisions are a sine qua non. Terminating and suspending a few officials would not cure the festering wounds but result oriented steps are required in the field of health to discipline the habitual abseentieeists and save many valuable lives.

One comment

  1. Real problems need practical solutions…
    Very good attempt to point out the delimma of our Government and society.


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