Nothing healthy about Punjab's health department

Chandigarh, June 14 (IANS) Punjab's health department could do with some urgent resuscitation itself, what with having acquired the reputation of being in the news for the wrong reasons.

The latest controversy involving the department is the mass transfer of 523 specialists - over half the strength - across the state. Not surprisingly, the transfers have left the government medical community "shocked" and a prominent body of doctors, the Punjab Civil Medical Services (PCMS) Association, promptly called a two-day strike in protest.

Punjab Health Minister Madan Mohan Mittal, who initially maintained that the transfers were irreversible, later cancelled 62 of them, saying these were "genuine" cases. Among the doctors transferred were three from the health centre in Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal's village, Badal. Their transfers, as expected, were also rolled back.

Mittal justified the transfers, saying: "The transfers were ordered as we are upgrading nearly 100 hospitals in the state. Some of the transfers were rolled back in genuine cases like health problems of doctors or couples getting posted to different places."

But not all doctors are satisfied with the transfers and the rollbacks.

"This practice has been going on for years. First order mass transfers and then open up counters to make money to roll them back. Not all doctors are related to VIPs or are influential to get their transfers cancelled. Honest and hard-working doctors will have to suffer in the name of all this for the upgradation of hospitals. Some people will end up paying money to get back their previous posting," said a doctor who had been transferred.

In Mohali district, considered the most attractive posting in Punjab and generally managed by highly influential people given its proximity to Chandigarh, the transfers of five doctors were rolled back.

Mittal, in the past, has had run-ins with his immediate junior, Chief Parliamentary Secretary (CPS) for health Navjot Kaur Sidhu.

The CPS, who is herself a doctor and wife of Amritsar MP and former cricketer Navjot Singh Sidhu, had last year begun "raiding" government doctors openly doing private practice and running private clinics. After she "nabbed" a doctor in Mohali, posing as a patient, the police arrested him.

While the medical community reacted sharply to the incident, Mittal too added to the controversy by criticizing the move by the CPS. However, she stood her ground on the issue, resulting in an embarrassing controversy for the health department and the Punjab government.

Both Mittal and Navjot Kaur Sidhu are Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) legislators in the state, where the saffron party is in alliance with the Shiromani Akali Dal government.

For now, the health department would be better off without any more controversies and instead focus on its primary duty - to provide better healthcare to the people.

(Jaideep Sarin can be contacted at jaideep.s@ians.in)

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