A Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare has come down heavily on Union Health and Family Welfare Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s ambitious plan to plug the huge shortfall in the rural healthcare sector with science graduates.
Expressing surprise at the minister’s proposal, the panel headed by BSP MP Brijesh Pathak said, “Instead of providing doctors in villages, the Centre is coming up with a scheme to get the (rural) sub-centres manned by such BSC (Community Health) graduates, who may not be able to tell a simple fever from jaundice!”
And it pointed out the inherent irony in this, when “a very substantial portion of the primary healthcare is provided by untrained providers and often by quacks and there is an acute shortage of healthcare professionals in the rural areas”.
The panel wondered “why the ministry was shying away from making rural service mandatory for the young doctors passing out of the government medical institutes?” Regarding the proposal to introduce the Bachelor of Science (Community Health) course, the Standing Committee said it raised serious questions.
“Whether a citizen of India in rural areas should be treated by a second-rate practitioner and whether it was not violative of his Constitutional right to equality of health.”
Besides, it said there was no clarity about the status of a graduate of the newly-proposed course in the various states and if such a person were to “migrate from one state to another for reasons beyond his or her control, the degree’s validity may be in question”. And the committee wondered whether the ministry’s recommendation to setting up the training schools linked to district hospitals was feasible.
“The prospect of producing half-baked doctors through the introduction of such courses would endanger the lives of the patients,” it said.
The panel also raised serious questions about how the Health Ministry will ensure that “such graduates would not carry on private practice”.
And the report recommended to the Centre that it should continue its focus on strengthening the existing healthcare infrastructure with more MBBS graduates. It pointed out that since the Planning Commission had mooted a proposal to set up medical colleges in each district during the 12th Plan Period, it would automatically ensure that there would be more doctors.
As for improving the healthcare infrastructure in the rural areas, the Committee recommended that more nursing graduates be posted in the sub-centres and the enrolment of more students in nursing schools.
In order to meet the immediate need for medics, it sought the appointment of graduates and postgraduates from the AYUSH stream, that follows the Indian system of medicine, as doctors.