The decision of the Uttarakhand Cabinet to raise the remuneration of specialist doctors working for government medical colleges in the hills is a small step in the right direction. It is not just that doctors are in short supply in the country, specialists are even rarer. It is an established fact that India’s ratio of doctors to the populace is very poor as compared to the developed countries that we aspire to compete with on many parameters. Medical specialists can command their price with private hospitals in the cities of their choice, so are obviously reluctant to serve in Uttarakhand’s tough terrain. Family life gets disrupted; good schools are not available for their children. As such, it is not a certainty that even the hike in salaries will attract the doctors. It will, however, be a relatively fair deal for those who are willing to serve in the hills for humanitarian considerations.
A growing phenomenon in present day India is that top experts in almost all fields command astronomical salaries in the private sector. This also applies to the health sector, where corporate hospitals can employ the best doctors. The traditional inclination for government service is declining by the day. The situation is made worse by the fact that doctors’ salaries are pegged lower than civil servants in the fossilized hierarchy and their actual worth diminished on the social scale. Any attempt by government to pay the actual price for their services faces severe resistance from babudom (one reason why an increasing number of doctors are joining the civil services).
Economic imperatives require that the health indices improve in the country to ensure greater prosperity and growth. It is an established fact that many households are pushed below the poverty line merely due to medical expenses. Government and charitable institutions cannot meet the demand due to the shortage of doctors and amenities, even as the cost of treatment itself is rising. It becomes imperative, therefore, that the supply of doctors, particularly specialists, is increased. This is being done but not at the pace required. Even to train new doctors, specialists are required, which are not available. The problem can be dealt with by importing professors in medical disciplines from countries where these are more freely available, regardless of cost. It would help meet the demand and also improve standards. The path should also be paved for the recognition of Indian students that have received their training abroad, instead of the present exclusivist approach rooted in concerns other than mere quality of the degrees. Hopefully, the Uttarakhand Government will continue to adopt such breakthrough measures to deal with the problem.