NEW DELHI: Private sector hospitals in India are gearing up to run an ambitious primary health care scheme that the government has announced but cannot implement on its own. The Association of Healthcare Providers in India (AHPI), a group of hospitals, is now formulating a proposal to run health and wellness centres, first announced in the National Health Policy last year, for which `1,200 crore has been allocated in the 2018-19 budget.
AHPI represents 450 private hospitals in the country, which includes most of the big corporate ones.
The government has proposed 1.5 lakh wellness centres throughout the country to provide comprehensive healthcare, including consultation and treatment for non-communicable diseases and maternal and child health services. These centres will also provide free essential drugs and diagnostic services.
“Primary health centres and health-sub centres will either be upgraded as wellness centres or new centres will be open under the project as part of Ayushman Bharat programme,” said a senior official in the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare. “However, we do not have the capacity or bandwidth to run these centres unless the private sector is involved in a big way and a public-private-partnership model is devised for the scheme.”
These health centres will have some essential features, and services will not be limited as they are now to pregnancy care, immunisation and some communicable diseases that represent less than 10 per cent of morbidity.
These centres will also handle more than 70 per cent of all outpatient care, including non-communicable diseases and mental illnesses. The role of the doctor and specialist will be extended from making a diagnosis and treatment plan to ensuring medication compliance for chronic illness and follow up care delivered close to home. Each centre will have at least three full-time health workers complemented by five community health workers, all of whom will preferably be recruited locally.
AHPI, which was approached by the government to suggest how it can help run this scheme, is offering to run these centres using its doctors and other resources if infrastructure is made available to them.
“We are discussing among ourselves what can be the mechanism of this partnership and will soon suggest it to the government,” said Girdhar Gyani, director-general of AHPI.
Some public health experts cautioned that the nature of this partnership should be well-defined and monitored to ensure that the wellness centres don’t end up being catchment zones for big hospitals.
“The government does not have finances, manpower or technical resources to implement a scheme of this magnitude, but it can at least put in strict regulatory mechanisms with well-defined checks and balances to ensure that the aim of the scheme is not lost,” said Oommen John, senior research fellow at the New Delhi-based George Institute for Global Health.