Absent from government duty for years together, these doctors have been blatantly cocking a snook at the Hippocratic oath. At least 112 of them are ‘missing’ from hospitals across Punjab — many for the past more than five years.
Red tape, legal tangles and political ‘connections’ have delayed punitive action against a majority of the absent doctors.
Those who have been playing truant include Dr Datinder Bashish, absent from duty since April 2003 from a community health centre in Patiala district, Dr Amarjit Singh, absent since September 2006 from a primary health centre (PHC) at Bhagta in Bathinda district, and Dr Manjot Kaur, who has not reported for duty since February 2006.
In several cases, the inquiry is still pending or the inquiry officer is yet to submit his report. What’s worse, records of some absentee doctors are not even available with the health department.
A medical officer (dental), Dr Mahijit Puri, has not turned up for duty since July 2002. The file recommending punitive action against him following an inquiry is pending at the ‘government level’, as per records procured by HT from the health department. The department is also awaiting a reply from Dr Amit Modi to draft a chargesheet against him for being absent since September 2007.
In some cases, the department has been dragged to court by doctors whose resignations were not accepted after they remained absent from duty for more than the stipulated maximum of 90 days.
Dr Mandeep Kaur went ‘missing’ from duty in April 2008 and later moved court. Due to the delay in administrative action against her, the department did not accept the doctor’s resignation.
When contacted, Dr JP Singh, director, health, Punjab, stated that in a majority of the cases, the doctors were indulging in private practice and about 10% had not returned from ex-India leave.
He claimed that the process to penalise such doctors was lengthy, beginning at the senior medical officer (SMO)-level, then on to chief medical officer (CMO) and followed by the civil surgeon, who finally reported the matter to the directorate of health services.
“Inquiry officers are not able to submit their reports as the absentees simply do not reply to letters,” he said.
Dr JP Singh said the department was taking a serious note of all these cases and would soon upload the list of absentee doctors – specifying their present status - on its website (www.pbhealth.gov.in).
When apprised of the matter, Punjab health minister Madan Mohan Mittal said, “I would look into these cases at the earliest and take action, wherever required.”
The minister said there were a few cases in which the doctors resigned after staying absent from duty for three months. Their applications are under consideration, he said.
No political will, says Chawla
Laxmi Kanta Chawla, who was the health minister in the previous Akali-BJP government (2007-12), blamed lack of political will for the state of affairs. “Political patronage (to such doctors) is the main impediment,” she said.
“There are 34 private nursing homes run by government doctors in Ludhiana alone,” she said, without giving names.
“I found a doctor couple running a clinic after remaining absent from duty in Gurdaspur, but the entire local leadership, even those from my own party (BJP) ganged up on me,” she said.