The Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad appears to be busy shooting the breeze by announcing vague policy changes involving setting up of Medical Colleges through private capital and in collaboration with government run district hospitals. The minister who is well known for putting his foot in the mouth, recently announced at a FICCI conference that the government is considering relaxing the norms for setting up medical colleges by the private sector. He also announced that these colleges can be affiliated with the government owned district hospitals, thus doing away with the requirement of a teaching hospital to be attached with the medical college.
The minister is seeking private equity participation in rural, backward and far-flung areas of the country. He believes that the private players can be attracted to set up medical colleges in these parts of the country by offering concessions such as access to district hospitals.
Doesn’t this sound completely hare brained?
Why would a private entity invest money in backward and far flung areas? The minister must know that what passes for District Hospitals is a sham. The hospitals are poorly equipped, have limited resources and are dens of corruption. Many are old and decrepit, some even falling apart with peeling plaster and leaking roofs. How will these private medical colleges attract students when they will be offering their students medical training in these hospitals? Will these students learn cutting edge medicine in hospitals, where high tech might mean an X-Ray machine? Why would they pay hefty fees to go to attend these medical colleges, knowing fully well what lies in store for them in the future? And if the students don’t find this proposition attractive, how will the medical colleges make money and generate a return for their investors?
India needs more doctors. According to the current planning commission estimates India needs 600000 doctors, a million nurses and more than 200000 dentists. The only way this shortage can be met is by investing in medical education. The government must find the resources to set up more medical colleges and teaching hospitals across the country. The bulk of the investment must come from the government. After all, this is an investment in the future of the health of the citizens.
The private sector can be roped in to partner in this effort, where in some of these colleges can be set up in collaboration with private players. The government can facilitate these investments by offering tax breaks, land at concessional rates, soft loans, duty concessions on buying high tech equipment, and by developing allied infrastructure like power, roads and telecom in these areas. The teaching hospitals established along with the medical school can than serve as regional/district level referral centres for far flung Primary Health Centres. The teaching hospitals can also run outreach programs, touching lives of people in remote areas through regular camps and mobile hospitals.
These state of the art medical colleges and teaching hospitals will than be able to attract bright students and dedicated faculty. Many of them will come hopefully, not from far off places but also from local areas and will be happy to serve their own communities. Thus, they will form the backbone of a medical network that will extend its reach into the farthest nooks and corners of our country, making it possible for our citizens to access high quality healthcare nearer to their homes.
The minister must find a way to make a clean break from the past, think afresh and find the resources to get this going. More importantly he needs clear thinking and resolute will to bring about the change in the way healthcare is delivered in our country.
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