These labs have machines, but no men to operate them

Set up under a Centre-funded scheme in 7 districts, they lie under-utilised

The district hospitals of Tumkur, Chitradurga and Bagalkot, were among the seven hospitals, chosen by the Centre to set up Regional Diagnostics Laboratories (RDLs) in 2002. The RDLs are equipped with ECG, ultrasound colour doppler, EEG, MRI, treadmill, mammography and other diagnostic machines. The State health department has not been able to enlist the services of qualified specialists and lab technicians.

Attempting to address this issue, the Karnataka Health Systems Development and Reform Project (KHSDRP), a World Bank-funded programme, recently invited proposals from external agencies and NGOs to run the RDLs on Public Private Partnership (PPP) basis for a year.

The Centre-funded 24/7 RDLs were set up with the aim of providing quality diagnostic facilities free of cost to below poverty line families in the state. The hospitals could collect fees from families above poverty line and the same would be remitted to the District Health Society and used for maintenance of the laboratories and procuring chemicals and other items necessary to run the RDLs. 

KHSDRP project director S Selvakumar said that the laboratories were not optimally used despite having all the equipment, due to shortage of manpower.

For instance, the utilisation rate of the Bagalkot RDL was just 20 per cent. The utilisation rate at the Tumkur and Chitradurga hospitals was just 40 per cent.

The equipment cost about Rs 16.86 lakh for each laboratory, with the government spending around Rs 9 lakh per month for the operation of these laboratories. The RDLs were set up in different states with funds from the 11th Pay Commission to improve health facilities at the district level. Each RDL is attached to two to three districts to provide all the medical investigations.

The other RDLs set up under the scheme are in Mandya, Bidar, Bellary and Dharwad. They are being run by the Medical Education Department under the hospitals attached to the respective medical colleges.

No medical colleges

"Tumkur, Chitradurga and Bagalkot do not have medical colleges. So the RDLs are with us. We don't have adequate specialists and radiologists. A majority of them have an issue with salary or availability of time to render their services," said an official of the health department.

Hence, the selected external agency or NGO will operate the RDLs by hiring pathologists, radiologists and microbiologists. The KHSDRP, in turn, will reimburse the salary of the specialists and other staff. The procedure to select the agency will be completed within two months, the official said.

Team composition

One RDL team comprises

* Team leader/manager (MBBS)
* Radiologist
(part time, MD/DMR)
* Pathologist (degree/diploma)
* Microbiologist
* Physician/cardiologist
* Biochemist
* 3 X-ray technicians
* 3 ECG technicians
* 3 lab technicians
* Computer operator-cum-clerk
* 5 lab attenders
* 3 X-ray attenders
* 2 general workers

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