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Bill to boost doc turnout in rural belts

The Assembly on Friday passed a bill to encourage doctors to work in rural areas.

The West Bengal State Health Service (Amendment) Bill, 2013, promises incentives to doctors working in remote or backward areas in the form of increased allowances and honoraria, as well as additional allowances.

The bill also proposes non-financial incentives, such as transfer to places of choice on completion of rural posting, promotions to higher grades and certificates of merit and commendations.

The doctors serving in backward and rural areas will get weightage during the screening for postgraduate and postgraduate diploma courses.

“Nearly 73 per cent of Bengal’s population depends on state health care. There is a huge shortage of good doctors at health centres in rural belts. The incentives will encourage in-service doctors to move to rural belts. This will ensure availability of qualified medical practitioners in such areas,” Chandrima Bhattacharya, the minister of state for health, said in the Assembly during the discussion on the bill.

Officials said the passage of the bill would take care of some of the legal complications the government has been facing to award doctors working in remote areas.

The high court had in 2012 described as “unconstitutional, arbitrary and irrational” a government notification introducing “remote-area incentive” for government doctors eyeing a berth in postgraduate or postgraduate diploma courses.

In the notification dated November 23, 2011, the government had declared 12 districts and the Darjeeling sub-division as “backward” and announced that doctors serving at least three years in hospitals and health centres there would get 30 per cent grace marks in the entrance test for postgraduate/diploma courses.

In an interim order, the court had stayed the health department’s notification. But earlier this year, the high court had directed the state government to identity backward and remote areas before implementing the notification.

The state health department has formed a three-member expert committee to locate such areas. “Earlier, the remote areas were earmarked on the basis of districts. But following the court directive, it’s being done based on the condition of each area,” said a health department official.

Bengal has long been plagued with a shortage of doctors in health centres and hospitals not just in remote or backward areas, but also in small towns.

This has led to overcrowding at medical colleges in Calcutta, where patients in large numbers are turned away daily for want of space.

“Lack of facilities and infrastructure is the main reason why doctors are reluctant to go to rural areas,” said a doctor of a medical college in Calcutta.