Services at most of the government hospitals are deficient not only due to scanty basic amenities, but lackadaisical attitude of government doctors, who are more interested in private practice in violation of the norms, are also responsible to a large extent.
Most of the doctors at the government hospitals are doing private practice despite the fact that if found guilty, they could be prosecuted by the district administration or the vigilance department for violating the norms.
However, with the district administration paying no heed to the issue, private practice has increased manifold over the years, which is also evident from increasing number of private nursing homes owned by government doctors. The unsavory scenario can also be attributed to the absence of a concrete policy and political interference in the functioning of truly dedicated government physicians - like deciding which doctor should be promoted irrespective of their seniority.
Highly placed sources with the district health department said more than 90% government doctors were doing private practice despite the norms set by an Act passed by the Punjab Legislative Assembly almost two decades ago prohibiting private practice by government doctors.
Government doctors doing private practice, said the sources, usually try to cash in on facilities missing at government hospitals - like neurosurgery, advanced orthopaedic treatments, trauma care, advanced cardiac care etc - and offer those services at high cost, which is beyond the reach of the indigent masses.
According to service manual, doctors at government hospital are required to put in a minimum of 40 hours' service a week - at least six and a half hours daily, said sources said.
Former medical superintendent at Guru Nanak Dev Hospital Dr RPS Boparai said: "Doctors employed in government service are usually very talented and not all of them are money minded, though a few like to make the best use of their talents after their hospital hours."
"After six to seven hours of duty, physicians usually have no idea about what to do with their spare time that's why many start private practice,"he said.
He added that the government should increase their working hour vis-à-vis financial benefits.
Besides leading a settled life as compared to other government employees and bureaucrats, who are transferred after every two to three years, a government doctor earns a substantial monthly package between Rs 1.20 lakh and Rs 1.5 lakh, which is inclusive of the non-practicing allowance of around Rs 30,000 per month, said sources.
Chief parliamentary secretary (CPS), health and family welfare, Punjab, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, who had conducted raids at several government hospitals and found them in pitiable condition, said: "There is a wide disparity between the amount that a government doctor earns and a private practitioners makes. This disparity lures many government doctors into private practice."
"Doctors in government service may be paid handsomely, but their counterparts in private sector get at least ten times more,"said Dr Sidhu.
"Many BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurveda, Medicine and Surgery) doctors are contributing to this unholy trend by opening private hospitals without facilities and experts, and inviting government surgeons to perform specialised surgery for handsome payment.
"Besides, government doctors are not given freedom to work as per their potential as a result of which they are easily lured by private sector, where they put up their capabilities to full use. The dedicated ones are burdened with so many other duties. There is a lot of political interference in the existing health set up,"observed Dr Sidhu.
She maintained that there was a dire need to formulate a concrete policy in this regard, besides holding daily meetings to regulate the health sector.
Policy governing the health sector to be framed in one month's time: Dr Sidhu
Stating that efforts were on to sort out knotty issues with the health department, Dr Navjot Kaur Sidhu, chief parliamentary secretary, health and family welfare, Punjab, said a policy in this regard would be framed in a month time.
The Punjab government plans to rope in the Medical Council of India (MCI) and the Indian Medical Association (IMA) and other medical councils and associations for framing rules to do away with the existing disparity in the work culture of the government and the private health sectors.
She added that efforts would be made to classify the doctors according to their contribution.
"Government hospital doctors having lackadaisical attitude will most likely be asked to leave whereas
dedicated doctors likely to get benefit or there could be a settlement over private practice, which doctors could pursue in free time,"she said.