THE prolonged standoff between the Punjab government and the young doctors could finally be over. The chief minister is expected to issue a notification soon in a formal acceptance of the demands of the Young Doctors’ Association in Punjab. Hopefully, this time the agreement will be for real. Previously, many truce declarations have turned out to be false, unleashing the painfully familiar scenes of men and women in white coats leaving treatment rooms for the streets in defiance of government and court orders. The YDA accused the government of reneging on its promise of a change in the service structure for doctors in public-sector hospitals. Its distrust of those negotiating on the government’s behalf earlier was reflected in Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif eventually replacing some old negotiators with new ones from the top tier of the PML-N. At an estimated Rs1.5bn, the money required to introduce the new structure was an issue as was, the doctors claimed, an overtly bossy bureaucracy unwilling to loosen its control over hospitals. In return, and not unsupported by public sentiment, the young doctors were painted as a group lacking in professional ethics and the principles of trade unionism. The fact remained that there were problems with the conditions these doctors had been long working under.
The announcement of the agreement — pending official notification — must come as a relief for doctors and those they must treat. Under the terms, the Punjab government appears to have committed to facilitating the withdrawal of a July 2012 murder case filed by the father of a patient against a group of doctors for alleged negligence. While this case will need some sorting out, there is no reason why this glorious moment for doctors should be allowed to impede calls for rules that more effectively cover the issue of negligence. A health commission tasked to take up such cases and other aspects related to healthcare and health practitioners exists only on paper. It should be made functional immediately as a forum where grievances can be heard without the situation deteriorating to the level to which it had during this tussle between the government and YDA.