Move to merge 489 rural dispensaries with health dept in Punjab raises eyebrows
A section of doctors and other healthcare workers raising questions about the decision amid the pandemic
The Punjab government’s move to merge 489 of the 1,183 dispensaries run by the state rural development and panchayati raj department with the health department has not gone down well with a section of doctors and other healthcare workers who are raising questions about the decision at a time when the pandemic threat is looming large in non-urban areas.
The decision was implemented earlier this month.
According to an order, these subsidiary facilities will now be run by the health department as health and wellness centres and won’t have MBBS doctors. Every centre will now be headed by a community health officer (CHO), a newly created post.
A nurse, who has been given special training for the purpose, or a holder of bachelor of ayurvedic medicine and surgery (BAMS) degree will be posted as CHO, officials said.
The government’s rationale behind the merger is that these centres, meant to serve far-flung and backward rural areas, were not having MBBS doctors (rural medical officers) and other staff for the past few years.
Punjab Rural Medical Services Association president Dr Aslum Parvez said red tape has taken a toll on the rural healthcare system which has been systematically eroded amid the pandemic. “These dispensaries were without doctors for the past 9 years. When there was a need to fill the vacancies, the government decided to abolish the posts. We urge that chief minister to take back the decision and fill the vacancies of doctors in permanent rural health cadre under the rural development department,” he said.
Now, these dispensaries will be run by nurses working as community health officers, Dr Parvez added.
On Thursday, protests were held against the move in Patiala and Gurdaspur districts.
“Our dispensary used to cater to a population of over 12,000,” said Jatinder Singh Mattu, convener of the Independent Labour Union, who led the protests in Ghagga village of Patiala.
These centres were without permanent doctors as the last recruitment in the rural department was done in 2016. Doctors serving in the rural areas say a CHO won’t be authorised to prescribe any drugs.
Principal secretary (health) Hussan Lal said the posting of doctors in these centres is under consideration of the government.
Health minister Balbir Sidhu and his rural development and panchayati raj counterpart Tript Rajinder Bajwa were not available for comments.