Centre to launch major healthcare package

2.5 per cent of GDP to be allocated in the next 5 years

After reaping rich political dividends of the rural job scheme, the Centre is all set to launch a new flagship scheme – universal healthcare (UHC) for all – to tide over the 2014 general elections.

Endorsed by the prime minister’s office (PMO) on Wednesday, the proposed scheme envisages providing a large number of medicine for free to patients in government hospitals and health care centres; launching a new cadre of public health officials to manage common health issues like immunisation and mother and child care in villages and appointing thousands of doctors and nurses to meet the manpower shortage.

As the gigantic task requires generous funding support, the PMO has asked the Planning Commission to allocate 2.5 per cent of the GDP for healthcare in the next five years. Currently, it stands at about 1.4 per cent.

One of the key components of the UHC is “free medicine for all through public health facilities under the National Rural Health Mission” as a Planning Commission study found that low public spending on drugs and non-availability of free drugs in government health care facilities are major factors discouraging people from accessing government hospitals and health care facilities.

The Cabinet approved setting up of a Central Procurement Agency for bulk procurement of drugs that would disburse the medicines in accordance with a standard treatment protocol being prepared by the health ministry for various diseases.
Creation of a public health cadre for delivering healthcare services in villages will be another cornerstone of the proposed UHC.

Currently, there is one doctor for 35,000 people whereas the internationally recommended norm is 2.5 trained health workers (doctors or professional nurses or midwives) per 1,000 population. The government’ plan is to meet the shortfall from the new cadre.

Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) is also expected to put its stamp of approval on this ambitious scheme. A NAC meeting was scheduled on February 17, which did not take place and a second meeting was likely later in March.

Another key component of the mega scheme will be implementing the Clinical Establishments (Registration and Regulation) Act, 2010, passed by the Parliament.
Speedy implementation of the law would ensure government monitoring of private hospitals and nursing hospitals leading to standardisation and consequent reduction of exorbitant fees by these private healthcare units to some extent.

“Medical insurance is one of the biggest concerns that needs to be debated. Also we need to create capacity for absorbing the additional funding,” K Srinath Reddy, president of Public Health Foundation of India who led the Planning Commission study told Deccan Herald.

 

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