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‘Differences’ with minister may cost health secretary his job

LAHORE: Upset over recent spate of criticism for failure to run health sector effectively, the Punjab government has decided to transfer Specialized Healthcare and Medical Education Department (SH&MED) Secretary Saqib Zafar.

The decision was taken following his differences with health minister Dr Yasmin Rashid over some issues, an official privy to the information told Dawn seeking anonymity.

He said a summary to this effect has been moved by the services & general administration department, proposing Mr Zafar’s replacement with a ‘suitable and vibrant officer’.

He said the move came after several health schemes and projects relating to the government teaching hospitals of the province came to almost a halt.

The minister and the secretary health developed differences when some senior officers in SH&MED complained of “unwarranted delay” in disposal of cases by Mr Saqib Zafar, seriously hampering the health sector.

They told the high-ups, more than 30 cases of immediate concern were awaiting approval by Mr Zafar, in addition to several others, the official said.

The summaries pertaining to some important health schemes moved by relevant sections for approval by the health secretary also came under discussion, he said.

The official said the differences between health minister and the secretary widened when Dr Rashid found Mr Zafar reluctant to comply with the directions to meet the targets.

Consequently, he said, the minister formed a parallel body — ‘minister delivery unit’ — at her office to get her orders implemented through it.

Talking about some issues of emergent nature awaiting approval by the health secretary, he said, the Punjab government faced embarrassment when it failed to purchase 279 ventilators for the state-run hospitals even months after the task was assigned to the department.

He said in Dec 2018, the Supreme Court had also expressed utter displeasure over delay in purchase of the ventilators. However, the matter was still pending with the health secretary’s office.

Similarly, he said, the health department had almost shelved the case of release of Rs400 million for the cancer medicines imported from Switzerland for the 500 patients registered with five state-run hospitals of the province under the Punjab CML Project.

Purchased in Oct 2018, the medicine had been cleared by the Drug Testing Lab, the official said, adding that the primary and secondary healthcare department had hired 6,000 medical officers, while no such initiative was taken by the SH&MED for the teaching hospitals of the province.

He said the minister and the secretary also had different views on re-unification of health department, with Prof Yasmin supporting the idea, while Mr Zafar opposing it.

The cases of establishment of new authority on blood transfusion in Punjab were also lying pending for many months, he added.

Moreover, the official said, the SH&MED also failed to enforce dengue regulations in Punjab, despite the fact that a summary to this effect was moved to the health secretary for approval. The secretary, he said, took three months or so to initiate it for the cabinet’s approval.

The official further said more than 4,000 slots of senior doctors in all the teaching hospitals of the province were lying vacant and the case of their recruitment was pending for approval by the health secretary.

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