Grave dearth of health professionals: Parliamentary panel

Last Updated: Sat, Dec 01, 2012 12:20 hrs

New Delhi, Dec 1 (IANS) There is a "substantial shortage" of health workers and major disparities in the distribution of health infrastructure in the country, a parliamentary panel has noted.

The parliamentary panel on health, which was examining a bill for a regulatory authority on human resources in health, said the situation showed that government efforts for universal and affordable healthcare have failed.

"The committee takes note of the fact that even though it is more than sixty years since India attained independence, affordable healthcare and health education have been a distant dream for the common people of the country," said the panel examining the National Council for Human Resource in Health (NCHRH) Bill.

The bill has been at the centre of controversies, with several stakeholders opposing it.

The committee recommended that government reject the present bill and draft a new one.

The NCHER bill was framed for creating an overarching body for all institutes imparting medical education, like medical, nursing, physiotherapy, dentist and other associations.

Presently, every stream has its own governing council, which manages both the education and practice, like the Indian Medical Association for doctors, Nursing Association for nurses, physiotherapy association for physiotherapists and so on.

The committee recommended that the government bring a fresh bill after holding discussions with "all stakeholders".

A lot of states, as well as different professional bodies have expressed dissatisfaction with the bill in its present form.

Talking about the situation of health infrastructure, the committee said the government has made efforts, but due to "substantial socio-economic and geographical inequalities, those efforts have not made the desired impact".

"The committee expresses its concern over the acute shortage of qualified health workers including doctors in the country," the report said.

As per 2001 census, estimated density of all health workers, both qualified and unqualified, is nearly 20 percent less than WHO norms of 25 workers (doctors, nurses, and midwives) per thousand population.

The committee has also taken note of "disparities between between the rural and urban areas" and expressed concern over the unequal distribution of medical and other health education colleges.

"Nursing education is also in a poor condition... similarly the nurse-doctor ratio in the country is only 0:81 as against the ideal ratio of 3:1," it said.

According to figures from thinktank PRS Legislative Research, Chhattisgarh has the highest vacancy of doctors at 71 percent, followed by West Bengal (44 percent), Maharashtra (37 percent), and Uttar Pradesh (36 percent).

On the other hand, Rajasthan (0.4 percent), Andhra Pradesh (3 percent) and Kerala (7 percent) have the lowest vacancies in PHCs.

Nine states do not have any doctor vacancies at all at the PHC level. These states include Bihar, Jharkhand and Punjab.

The overall vacancy for ANMs in the country is five percent while for doctors it is 24 percent.

Emphasis on increasing the number of health professionals and health infrastructure has been given in the 12th Five Year Plan as well.

The approach paper of the plans stressed ensuring "a sizeable expansion" in teaching institutions for doctors, nurses and paramedics.

As per figures from the health ministry, only 193 districts of a total of 640 districts in India have medical colleges. Further, the existing teaching capacity for creating paramedical professionals is grossly inadequate.

Against 335 medical colleges, there are 319 ANM (Auxiliary Nurse Midwife) training schools, 49 health and family welfare training schools.

To fill the gap in training needs of paramedical professionals, the Twelfth Plan proposes to develop each of the district hospitals into knowledge centres, and community health centres into training institutions.

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