Tech to fill healthcare gaps in Uttar Pradesh

Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh
Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh

Completing its 100 days in power, Uttar Pradesh government has given a major focus to revamp  the healthcare system in the state. In a exclusive  interview, the state’s Health Minister Sidharth Nath Singh, shared to Mohd Ujaley how the state is mulling to address the challenge of shortage of doctors, and infrastructure, by conducting walk-in-interview, appointing BUMS at PHC, telemedicine, and up-gradation of existing hospitals with the help of World Bank.

What are your key priorities in the healthcare sector in the state?

Our first priority has been and hopefully I have succeeded, to change the image of the ministry. The ministry was known for corruption, inefficiency and lacklustre attitude. But now the ministry is known for delivering healthcare services. There has been image makeover of the ministry.

Secondly, there are many areas where the health services need to be improved. Availability of the doctors, medicine, technicians are key for this improvement. However, we have shortage of 7000 MBBS doctors and 18000 paramedicals staff.

Now to overcome that we are coming out with a two prong approach – focus on human resource and technology. On the human resource side, it is about getting more doctors but that does not mean that we would recruit doctors, as the shortage is about 7000 doctors. So, the only way is to use the existing doctors and infrastructure to the optimal. It means if there is a morning OPD, there should be an evening OPD too. So that more people can get medical services.

I am also talking to Indian Medical Association (IMA) for hiring their doctors on honorarium basis. In addition, to fill this gap, we are mulling to start walk-in-interview system rather than fully depending on the Lok Seva Ayog (Public Service Commission). The Lok Seva Ayog will continue.

We are trying to fill the gaps in healthcare service delivery, using telemedicine. Very soon, we will come out with a tender to roll-out telemedicine services across the state.

In Uttar Pradesh, you already have Sanjay Gandhi Post Graduate Institute of Medical Sciences (SGPGIMS), Lucknow with dedicated telemedicine facility. Why don’t you use them rather reinventing the wheel?

Yes, it is there but that is very small. When you talk about telemedicine, it has to be universal. It must touch the primary healthcare (PHC), not just the medical colleges.

NHM envisaged to have at least one MBBS doctor at PHC level but doctors are reluctant to go there. How do you plan to address this challenge?

If an MBBS doctor goes to PHC, its great. If they can’t go, we have to find a way to address this challenge. I am coming up with a policy where we will allow Bachelor of Unani Medicine and Surgery (BUMS) doctors to serve at PHC level.

To smoothen the patient interaction with the doctors and hospitals, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and few other government-owned hospitals have started online appointment system for OPD and clinics. Is Uttar Pradesh also plans to do that?

Going forward, we are going to come up with many technology driven things that will help us in delivering better healthcare services in the state. But at this stage, we have to go step by step, we cannot do everything together. First step is that we must have doctors. If the doctors are there then the appointment comes. If the doctors are not there what will I do with the online appointment system. So, I am very clear about what I want to do. The shortage of 7000 doctors needs to be fill by various method.

All these need lot of investment in health delivery system in the state. How do you plan to fund your programme?

We have inherited more or less empty treasury.  I am looking at various other models including public private partnership (PPP) and help from central government which they have promised under various programme of National Health Mission (NHM). To be honest, I am grateful to Union Health Minister J P Nadda, he has given a helping hand to me in our endeavour to overhaul the health service delivery in the state.

Under Make in India programme, Union government is incentivising both the states and private firms for setting up manufacturing plants in India. Are you planning to promote that?

I know that government of India is promoting local manufacturing under Make in India programme but it is little different. It is not related with the health services. That is related with the industrialisation programme of the government. Government of Uttar Pradesh is very soon going to come up with an industrial policy which will have components like industrial park and different economic zones. If people want to set up pharmaceutical plant, they can. Many people have already approached us. But that is not related with the health ministry. It has more to do with the industry and investment promotion. We are primarily concerned about the healthcare service delivery in the Uttar Pradesh.

As a health minister, in coming two years, what would you like to achieve?

My priorities in two years would be to put entire healthcare system and health service delivery of Uttar Pradesh back on track and running. That counts everything – including doctors, paramedical staff, technicians, all the machines and test equipments like Digital X-ray, CT Scan, MRI Scan etc. I will try to put all these things in the hospitals.
Second, I would not tolerate corruption in the healthcare service delivery. Throughout the state the hospitals will be upgraded. I have personally upgrading the Lal Bahadur Shatri Chikitsalaya in Varanasi. Apart from it out of 173 district hospitals, 10 hospitals will be upgraded by World Bank. That pilot project hopefully is going to be successful by September this year. We are hopeful that they will take up the remaining hospitals as well. I am also in discussion with Asian Development Bank (ADB) for them to give us helping hand.

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