The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Shatrughan project hits twin hurdles

New Delhi, Jan. 15: The project of running evening out-patient departments (OPDs) in hospitals has run into trouble, barely seven days after health minister Shatrughan Sinha declared it open.

The two major obstacles in the way of the project are: Sinha has announced the project but is clueless about the source for its funding, and around 800 resident doctors at AIIMS have declared a near non-cooperation stir, protesting against the additional load and financial uncertainty.

Evening OPDs are functioning in four of Delhi’s leading hospitals — AIIMS (All-Indian Institute of Medical Sciences), Safdarjung Hospital, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital and Lady Hardinge Medical College.

“There has been a very good response. Patients begin queueing up from 2 pm though the OPDs open at 5,” said a nurse on duty at an AIIMS evening OPD. The OPDs exist in the departments of surgery, medicine, paediatrics, gynaecology, psychiatry and ENT.

The health ministry’s circular to the hospitals says: “The existing staff from respective departments will be deployed on an equitable roster basis in the evening OPDs till such time as additional regular staff are provided.”

The circular also says that an honorarium will be paid to the specialists, medical officers, paramedics and other staff. The amount ranges from Rs 500-600 a day for the medical officer and the senior resident specialist and a uniform Rs 250 for the paramedical staff.

The health ministry claims that a part of the funds will come from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) project for non-communicable diseases. The government circular says: “The staff component covered by the WHO biennium project will draw the honorarium from the WHO support.”

WHO officials, however, clarified that the organisation has strict rules against diversion of its funds to a project other than that specifically allocated for.

“We have nothing to do with evening OPDs. Maybe 10 years ago, the government could have diverted WHO funds. But now, the organisation gives funds for specific projects. And the health ministry is well aware of it,” a WHO official said.

The health ministry’s version is that it has launched the OPDs as a pilot project. Once the project falls into place, the financial details would be worked out.

Ministry officials emphasised that the infrastructure in the hospitals where evening OPDs have been started is grossly underutilised, as also the faculty members.

According to the officials, the ministry would be able to come to a conclusion about the exact details of the project after it has been on for two or three months.

Physicians, however, believe that the project was launched hastily to “add a feather to Sinha’s cap”. “A good project runs the risk of being derailed because the health ministry launched it without considering the ground reality — financial or otherwise,” a doctor said.

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