Last Saturday, a holiday, the Orissa High Court held a special sitting to hear a PIL on healthcare in the state. A Division Bench of Chief Justice S Muralidhar and Justice R K Pattanaik took note of the inspection reports of district legal services authorities on government hospitals and healthcare centres. The Bench voiced serious concern over the state of affairs and directed the government to take immediate corrective measures. The court found that doctors on roll were absent in many places; availability of nurses and other staff was poor; ambulance service did not exist and stock register on drugs was not maintained. Bereft of basic facilities, the HC observed that even the minimum quality of medical care could not be provided to the poor.
For a state where the healthcare has always been bad, Odisha has not shown any marked improvement at all. That the state government has failed to deploy a sufficient number of doctors in even some of the most backward regions speaks volumes about its intent. There is a vacancy of 43% in general duty medical officers deployed in districts across Odisha. The vacancy among specialists is equally poor at 44%. There are eight government medical colleges and hospitals. Yet, patients from weaker economic backgrounds are forced to seek services in the private sector in the absence of basic amenities and diagnostic services.
The Naveen Patnaik government may have been bragging about a unique health assurance service under which the people from weaker sections can avail best medical care for free from top-of-the-line private hospitals across the country. But what about its own medical college and hospitals (MCHs)? The SCB Medical College and Hospital at Cuttack, the biggest and oldest state-run medical college, will be converted into an AIIMS-Plus institute, says the government. But the ground situation is pathetic with a crippling faculty shortage in many departments. What use are massive buildings if there are no specialists to take care of desperate patients? Sample this: There are over 50 vacancies in professor posts in the government MCHs alone. The HC observation must serve as an alarm for the 22-year-old BJD government and wake it out of its long slumber.