India needs to prioritise its healthcare agenda to fast track country’s progress | union-budget$budget-analysis | Hindustan Times
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India needs to prioritise its healthcare agenda to fast track country’s progress

While cancer, diabetes and cardiac diseases affect more and more people each year, seasonal ailments and communicable diseases continue to exert pressure on our already challenged resources.

union budget Updated: Jan 25, 2017 20:36 IST
Our primary health centres and government hospitals are severely short staffed and challenged in terms of beds, equipment and medicines.
Our primary health centres and government hospitals are severely short staffed and challenged in terms of beds, equipment and medicines.

While it is true that budget allocation for the health sector has increased progressively from 0.9% of total GDP, to about 1.3%, we still have a long way to go.

While cancer, diabetes and cardiac diseases affect more and more people each year, seasonal ailments and communicable diseases continue to exert pressure on our already challenged resources.

Our primary health centres and government hospitals are severely short staffed and challenged in terms of beds, equipment and medicines. On the other hand, private sector facilities, largely in the specialist and super specialist segment, continue to grow.

The budget needs to have enhanced allocations for the treatment of chronic diseases such as cancers, heart diseases, malnutrition and diabetes.

A preferred status to the sector must be accorded with matching tax incentives for capital expenditure and a 10-year tax holiday for new and existing hospitals undergoing an upgrade or expansion.

Feasible and realistic guidelines to involve private capital in the establishment of medical and nursing colleges to bridge this vital skill gap, are necessary. There is also need to incentivise industry to invest more in capacity building for medical staff.

In this age of tech-enabled healthcare, it is also important to link initiatives such as Digital India not only to allocate funds and monitor utilisation but also to maintain health records and study health trends.

The much-awaited GST must be implemented speedily. Continued exemption under the future GST scheme must be factored to galvanize significant investment for the creation of healthcare infrastructure. With prices in check, assistance for hospital inputs like expensive medical equipment and consumables is needed so the feasibility of running medical services is safeguarded.

One strategy to tackle the shortage in healthcare infrastructure is to promote public private partnerships so that the access to quality and affordable healthcare increases for the people.

Post demonetisation, the time is right to incentivise medical insurance so that penetration from its low current base, increases exponentially. Convenient payment options at hospitals must be enabled so that a wider cross-section of patients can easily access high quality medical services.

Bhavdeep Singh is CEO of Fortis Healthcare Ltd.