Covid crisis exposes gaping holes in Chandigarh’s health policy
“The more you sweat in peace, the less you bleed in war,” goes a proven military dictum. As Chandigarh struggles in its war against the Covid-19 pandemic, it is evident that the UT administration didn’t sweat out enough when it could.
The pandemic has exposed gaping holes in the administration’s health policy and preparedness — from failure to ramp up health infrastructure to recruitment of enough manpower. Senior officials concede that the capacity of the UT’s health infrastructure didn’t expand in correlation with the increasing patient burden, and now during the pandemic it has been found to be severely wanting.
“The central issue is unavailability of medical professionals. Recruitment of more than 150 doctors, against new and old posts, has been pending for several years, as Chandigarh awaits the Centre’s approval,” said a senior UT official, requesting anonymity. In fact, the new infrastructure created in the form of the Civil Hospital in Sector 48 had to be handed over to Government Medical College and Hospital (GMCH), Sector 32, as the approval for creating 80 posts of doctor never came from the central government.
Recently, after several hiccups and hanging fire for years, construction of the new emergency-cum-trauma centre started at GMCH. “But, in the absence of additional health care professionals, it is doubtful whether we will able to use these facilities adequately,” said the official.
In fact, there are more than 200 sanctioned posts across all categories lying vacant at various government hospitals in Chandigarh.
“This tells you that nobody wants to invest in health care,” said Dr RS Bedi, former president of Chandigarh Chapter of Indian Medical Association. “They have not recruited doctors in ages. Also, they are inclined only to employ them on contract basis. There is uncertainty of job; so people don’t want to join. They struggle even during the routine days because of pressure of patients.”
Another instance where slow decision-making process is now impacting the city’s capacity to contain this unprecedented crisis is the upgrading of Government Multi Specialty Hospital, Sector 16. The proposal to convert it to a medical college is pending for more than a year and a half. “Currently, there is very limited scope for expansion of medical infrastructure in the hospital. The proposed new branch in Sarangpur could have helped us during the pandemic,” said the official.
Also, the proposal for allowing nursing homes in residential areas has been shuttling between sub-committees of the Administrator’s Advisory Council for years. Not only this, the pandemic has also exposed the lack of interstate coordination among the UT, Punjab and Haryana to devise common policies for the tricity. R Srinivas, town and country planner, Ministry of Housing and Urban Affairs, said: “An interstate coordination committee was set up for the three administrations by the Centre in 1975. Its last meeting was held in 2016, but since then, it is dormant.”