It would appear that Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s public sector hospitals are facing a bit of a problem. Consider the leading hospital of the province, the historical Lady Reading Hospital. It is in desperate need, as per reports, of Rs 3 billion. A total of Rs 5 billion due to the hospital remains frozen.
But it isn’t just the LRH. The Medical Teaching Institutes of the province, and the facilities operating under them, have all been reporting a stark shortage of funds.
In the debate that followed the PML(N)-proposed and PTI-planned-and-executed Sehet Card system, the public health individuals opposed to the same had been cautioning that the scheme might seem beguiling simple but will ultimately be at the expense of the province’s public hospitals, whose footfall vastly outstrips that of private hospitals.
Not giving enough funds here and splurging there sets up the former to fail even more, strengthening the case for funding the latter, in a macabre feedback loop. Well curated anecdotes by paid PR teams and supporters about this person being treated or that, seem to deny the fact that far more people have been treated at government hospitals with the funds allocated to the public health infrastructure.
And it is not as if the private hospitals have been performing spectacularly with the government funds given to it by the Sehet Card Scheme. Reports of grift are abound. Like the recent reported case in Dir, where there seems to have been an “epidemic” of appendicitis, an occurrence not many are aware of. In this, 1829 operations removing appendices were performed during 2022 at a private hospital allegedly owned by a senior doctor in a government hospital. Out of these, 744 operations were performed by one doctor alone.
All this, by no way, means to blanket-condemn the Sehet Card Scheme but merely to encourage debate on it so that a holistic approach could be taken. With the Sehet Card on one hand, and former finance minister Miftah Ismail’s advocacy for a voucher system for education on the other, neoliberal solutions to problems meant to be solved, hands-on, by the state, are being peddled and lapped up enthusiastically by an eager media without any passing-of-the-mic to opponents of such ideas.