Rattled by the shortage of doctors and other health staff in government facilities, brought into focus during the ongoing pandemic, the Punjab Government has been seeking to fill nearly 4,000 posts lying vacant in a bid to improve the situation and make affordable healthcare more widely available. In June-end, the government even decided to speed up the recruitment process by allowing the Baba Farid University of Health Sciences, Faridkot, to hire the staff via walk-in interviews and doing away with the lengthy process of the Punjab Public Service Commission (PPSC) or the Punjab Subordinate Services Selection Board. However, the response insofar as acquiring specialist doctors is concerned has been far from satisfactory. Against the 142 posts advertised in this category, only 62 candidates have shown interest.
This does not bode well. The continued paucity of experts indicates a longer wait for poor patients, especially in rural areas — home to nearly 65 per cent of the population — for proper medical care on their doorstep. The reason for this dismal state of affairs is not difficult to gauge: lack of enough incentives. Though last September, the government raised the salary of MS/MD doctors from Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh and the special remote area incentive from Rs 20,000 to Rs 60,000, it needs to follow up on why the hike is not attractive enough. Why has the condition deteriorated so much today from a time not too long back (2008-09) when the PPSC was rocked by the ‘jobs for cash’ scam in the recruitment of medical officers?
Over the past decade, fresh post-graduates are pushing away from the public sector. The main reason is the lure of the more lucrative pay, perks and promotion avenues in the private sector or the overseas greener pastures. This need is further fuelled by the necessity of repaying the loan of medical education, the cost of which has spiralled in this period. The relatively poor diagnostic facilities and other infrastructure in government hospitals give them little scope for improving their skill sets. Punjab must spend more on healthcare to retain its specialists and, consequently, aid the ordinary citizens crying for affordable treatment.