In Uttarakhand, doctors demand better infra, vacancies filled before being transferred to hills
The Uttarakhand government’s move to bring doctors under the ambit of the new Transfer Act has irked the medical practitioners who say the ruling dispensation was trying to “fill 85% seats with 15% strength”.
The Act makes it mandatory for government officials, barring civil servants and judicial officials, to be posted from normal to remote areas and vice-versa. The government says this is aimed at boosting government services in remote areas, especially in the hills.
The state is currently grappling with a serious shortage of medical practitioners, especially in the 10 hill districts, with over 85% posts of specialist doctors lying vacant. The Uttarakhand Medical Services Association, an umbrella body of the government, has demanded that the Transfer Act should be made applicable for them only when the vacant posts are filled. “At present, less than 15% posts of specialist doctors in the state are filled. Under the Act these doctors will be transferred to other locations. If this is done, the medical services in hospitals where these doctors are presently posted will be severely affected,” said Dr Anand Shukla, vice-chairperson of the association.
He added that the association is not against transfers. “The government must first fill the posts and then implement the Transfer Act. At present, it is trying to fill 85% seats with 15% strength,” he said.
The doctors’ body has also demanded that the transfers should be time bound. “Doctors are not provided even basic facilities. The transfer should be for a specific time and they must be given an assurance that they will be posted at normal locations after serving for a specific period in the remote locations. At present, once a doctor is posted in a remote location, he/she remains there for ever,” said Dr DP Joshi, president of the Association.
The latest report of the NITI Aayog on the state of health facilities in the country has placed Uttarakhand among the three-worst performing large states in terms of vacant positions of specialists at district hospitals.
The report states that 60% posts of medical specialists in the state are vacant. These include posts of specialists in medicine, surgery, obstetrics and gynaecology, paediatrics, anaesthesia, ophthalmology, radiology, pathology, ear-nose-throat, dental and psychiatry.
Besides this, the report also found that Uttarakhand does not have a single district with functional cardiac care centre in public hospitals.
To fill vacant posts of doctors in the hills, the state had also introduced subsidised MBBS courses. The beneficiaries were asked to sign a bond that mandates a compulsory five-year service in the hills after completing the degree, failing which the beneficiary shall be liable to pay the government Rs 1 crore as penalty.
Under the subsidised study scheme, the student has to only pay an annual fee of Rs 50,000, against Rs 4 lakh in normal circumstances.
However, to the surprise of the health department last year, nearly 250 students refused to honour the bond after availing subsidised medical education.
The health directorate has issued notices asking them to either join service in the hills or pay the fine mandated by the bond. While many have agreed to serve in the hills, health directorate officials who are privy to the matter say nearly 100 have yet not agreed to serve.
When asked about the allegations that doctors are unwilling to serve in hills, Dr Shukla said, “This is not true. The problem is of infrastructure. You send a surgeon to the district hospital in Chamoli when there are no anaesthetics. How can he/she serve there? The same is true for other specialists.”
Director of heath, Dr Archana Srivastava, could not be reached for her comments despite calls and a text message.