The Army's field hospitals are facing acute shortage of doctors, raising concerns about medical care being received by troops in the forward areas.
As first responders administering emergency treatment to soldiers in operational areas, these units immediately require around 850 doctors more to operate smoothly.
With a strength of over 3,000 doctors, field units perform a vital role in casualty evacuation, resuscitation of patients and prioritising them for referral to bigger military hospitals.
In its 12th report tabled in Lok Sabha, the Standing Committee on Defence has expressed deep concerns over the shortage of doctors in the field units.
It has recommended that the defence ministry take urgent measures to post doctors there "so that troops receive adequate medical care...". Vice-Admiral Punita Arora, a former top military surgeon, told HT, "Fully equipped field units are morale boosters for troops in operational areas."
While these units battle a shortage of medical officers, the number of doctors in Command hospitals is far more than the authorised strength. Similarly, the number of doctors posted in Delhi and Mumbai is nearly twice the authorised strength.
Defence ministry figures show that there are about 450 doctors posted in Delhi against the authorised strength of 250. Likewise, Command hospitals hold 543 doctors though the sanctioned number is only 331.
The justification offered by the Armed Forces Medical Services (AFMS) that the medical officers could be redeployed in field units during wartime has not impressed the committee. It has asked the government to constitute a panel to review the authorised strength of doctors in different categories of hospitals.
Worse, 142 doctors have quit between 2003 and 2005. Defence minister Pranab Mukherjee told the Lok Sabha on Thursday that the doctors left either after being superseded or on compassionate grounds.