India may eliminate its shortage of doctors in less than seven years, as per estimates drawn up by the Union Health Ministry. As the country rolls out Ayushman Bharat and includes 50 crore people in the medical net, it is imperative that the shortage — of approximately four lakh doctors — is reduced and fast.
India has far less doctors than the WHO-mandated one doctor for a population of 1,000, and to meet that requirement, the country would need approximately 13.5 lakh doctors. There are 9.3 lakh registered medical practitioners in the country but the Health Ministry hopes to bridge that gap soon.
“We currently have about 9.3 lakh doctors. Taking an average doctor’s professional life as 40 years, our calculations suggest that 23,000 doctors go out of the medical workforce every year. This means that of the 80,000 MBBS seats we currently have, there is a net addition every year of 57,000. Even if the seats remain at their present levels, which they will not, given that in the last three years alone we have added 30,000 seats, we will wipe out the current deficit in less than seven years,” said Arun Singhal, Special Secretary in the ministry.
Govt plans for inequitable distribution
There is also the additional challenge of ensuring equitable distribution of doctors, which the ministry hopes would be tackled partly by the locations of the new medical colleges, states’ initiatives, spread of medical infrastructure to underserviced areas after Ayushman Bharat and an eventual saturation of the urban market that will force doctors to tier II and III cities and villages eventually.
The medical education system, meanwhile, is going through a period of transition as the government readies to roll out the National Medical Commission that will replace the erstwhile Medical Council of India as the apex medical education regulator. Of the 33 members of the NMC, 25 have already been selected and a search is on for the chairperson. While the NMC will essentially be the authority for deciding on various issues, sources say the ministry is looking at the expansion of MBBS seats with some caution given the experience in the engineering sector where seats were increased so much that jobs became scarce and colleges faced closures.
“We are looking at a figure of about 1,20,000 seats … We cannot afford a situation like engineering because medical education in the first place is more investment intensive so somebody who spends Rs 400 crore should not be forced to shut shop…” explained a source.
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