The situation in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa regarding healthcare reforms features a broad mix of undesirable state-sponsored decisions that reflect an overreach in powers, reforms that might end up increasing problems in the system, and a healthy dose of nepotism to boot. Even with all of this brought to the attention of the provincial government through a 45-day protest that has remained relatively peaceful for the most part, the stalemate between the provincial government and doctors in Khyber Pahktunkhwa has taken a turn for the worse.

The government has now decided to take action against the protesting doctors. The doctors are demanding scrapping the Regional and Districts Health Authorities Act 2019, alongside removal of the brains behind it, Dr Nosherwan Burki (the Prime Minister’s cousin) and the Health Minister as well. Given that the new Act gives unprecedented powers to the Health Minister and might even drive up the cost of healthcare in the province, the doctors have legitimate reservations against the bill that have been completely ignored by the government. The protest obviously affects the patients the worst, and while the government will be quick to use that as an excuse to take action against protesting doctors, it cannot ignore its own fault in this process.

This is a classic case of the government blindly trusting its own experts while completely ignoring concerns of the practitioners on the ground; those that will have to face the real impact of changes to the healthcare system as they are brought into force. It is really difficult to understand the logic – or lack thereof – of not taking the opinions of doctors on board when they will be the ones navigating this system; the state needs to stop assuming it always knows better than those it serves. If a new system is put in place, the doctors will be on the frontline, and thus their opinions should be central in any reforms process.

Sadly though, the government has dug in its heels and is refusing to budge, not realising the actual cost of this in the long run. There is a reason skilled members of the labour force keep migrating to greener pastures abroad; the state treating them like imbeciles is obviously a significant (if not major) reason. Dealing with doctors in KP like this will also have far-reaching consequences. The short run will see patients going unchecked, but in the long term, we can expect a smaller percentage of trained doctors willing to stay in KP or even the country to continue their work. The Prime Minister and has team has lamented the ‘brain drain’ often, they should realise that now they are also contributing to it.