Calcutta, Feb. 21: Bengal today passed a law to form a board to speed up the recruitment of doctors in government hospitals but many felt the medicine would not work unless rural infrastructure and minimum living-condition guarantees were put in place.
The West Bengal State Health Service (Amendment) Bill will pave the way for the West Bengal Health Recruitment Board, which will take over the medical recruitment from the state Public Service Commission (PSC).
Junior health minister Chandrima Bhattacharya, who placed the bill in the absence of Mamata Banerjee who heads the health department, said vacancies were taking a long time to get filled up through the PSC.
“The process of filling up vacancies through the PSC was slow. If we had to depend on PSC, the vacancies would not have been filled up. The West Bengal Health Recruitment Board was formed to make the recruitment process less time-consuming,” said Bhattacharya.
The government health care system has as many as 5,523 vacancies now, out of which as many as 2,500 are posts for doctors.
However, senior health department officials and doctors have said the method of recruitment was not as important as ensuring an environment that makes doctors work in the districts.
The lack of infrastructure in rural health care centres is being seen as the main reason behind the government’s inability to lure doctors away from the city.
Some doctors and officials pointed to a walk-in interview format — one of the fastest recruitment processes — that was tried out last year.
Nearly half the medical officers recruited through the walk-in interviews did not join rural health care centres even after they were given appointment letters quickly. “They came back to Calcutta and expressed unwillingness to join because they had told us that there was no basic infrastructure to treat patients,” said an official.
According to a doctor who heads a department at a medical college, the government cannot attract new doctors without improving facilities and the social infrastructure.
“They also need to pay more as an incentive to stay in rural areas. Otherwise it will be difficult to get doctors,” he pointed out.
Recently, a young doctor had written to The Telegraph, wondering whether “anybody ever thought why doctors prefer to stay away from rural health care facilities? Why even students with rural backgrounds are also extremely reluctant to go back to their roots and serve the people?”
The doctor, whose name is being withheld because the newspaper was unable to contact him this evening to seek his permission to identify him, listed some of the reasons.
“The general infrastructure of health care delivery is in a shambles in most rural health care set-ups…. The living quarters in most places are dilapidated and are in ruins, making those unsuitable for human inhabitation — yet the doctor is bound to stay there. Has anybody ever heard of any Group A officer from administration, law enforcement or the judiciary being forced to stay in such appalling conditions in districts?” the doctor wrote.
He added: “The doctor is expected to double as the administrative head in most places to keep records perfect, run the government health programmes unhindered and check finances regularly. Administration is never a part of medical curriculum, so the young medico is always at sea between his professional self and the government responsibility.”
The young doctor also pointed to a larger problem. “There is least social security for doctors in rural Bengal — their children never get automatic admission in mid-session in nearest government school, he is expected to be on duty 24X7, for him leave is a luxury, electricity is not guaranteed at quarters unlike the residences of most administrative officers.”
He said doctors often found themselves at the receiving end of any backlash because they were identified with the government of the day.
“The doctor is seen as the face of the state, known to all but without any authority…. The doctors are the favourite whipping boys for all those who want to establish their authority in the locality. A lady doctor faced agitation from one political party in a so-called progressive district because she allowed (unknowingly) members of another political party to collect bleaching powder to distribute in the community during the height of swine flu scare,” the doctor wrote.
Within a month of coming to power, the chief minister had announced the decision to form the health recruitment Board for appointing doctors in government medical colleges and hospitals.
At public meetings and interactions with the health department officials, Mamata has often expressed her dissatisfaction with the number of doctors and nurses available in the state-run hospitals. On Thursday, too, she had asked young doctors at the School of Tropical Medicine to stay back in Bengal.
“We have already increased the number of beds to 14,600. The process of building more hospitals and medical colleges is on, so we need more doctors,” minister Bhattacharya said today.
The minister said the number of seats in the medical colleges too had gone up to 2,750 and the government wanted to create a pool of doctors for the new facilities coming up across the state.
Recruitment of medical officers — specialists and general duty— has already been brought under the purview of the health recruitment board. The passage of the bill will give it legislative moorings.
The recruitment board has started seeking applications for medical technologists. The category has around 900 vacancies in the state.