In wake of the pandemic, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman in her budget speech is expected to make crucial announcements related to improving healthcare infrastructure. There are high expectations that the Finance Minister will allocate a lion's share for healthcare delivery and innovations with a long-term vision.
Last year, the government allocated Rs 69,000 crore for the health sector, which was 10 per cent higher than FY20. But the allocation towards schemes dealing with communicable diseases, and Ayushman Bharat remained unchanged at Rs 2,178 crore, and Rs 6,400 crore, respectively.
"The time has come for the government to scale up the investments in healthcare and create budgetary provisions for capacity building and supporting technology-driven healthcare start-ups from the private sector as well," Nilesh Aggarwal Director & CEO, Medtalks.in.
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Aggarwal added, "Another key area that needs to be focused on during the budget is the creation of healthcare professionals. There is a severe crunch of qualified doctors, nurses, hospital attendants, and mental health professionals in the country. The government needs to build training and development infrastructure to create more skilled healthcare professionals and also to facilitate skill enhancement of the current workforce to meet the post-pandemic needs".
Studies have reported that there's a huge shortage of doctors, nurses, and medical beds in India. In 2019, Minister of State for Health Ashwini Choubey said there is one doctor for every 1,457 people as per the country's current population (1.35 billion).
Besides, the rural-urban divide in healthcare is another area which this union budget should at least address. 75 per cent of the Indian population residing in rural areas, and still healthcare concentration is heavily skewed in the urban areas. That's because of the absence of hospitals and qualified doctors in the rural areas. It is anticipated that the government might work upon e-health/e-medicine and other such technology-driven means to transform the rural health sector.
Meena Ganesh, MD & CEO, Portea Medical, said, "Funds must be allocated towards skill development of teachers, nurses, paramedical staff and caregivers. Further, by making budget allocations for development of telemedicine and home-based healthcare ecosystem in the country, it is possible to best harness the available resources to cover the whole country. This can be done through a public-private partnership in a speedier and more effective manner. Through the development of an alternate on-demand home healthcare system, we can reduce the burden on institutional healthcare. Investing in out-of-home healthcare is less cost-intensive than building and maintaining new hospitals, and the system can leverage available resources to cover a much larger number of patients and healthcare seekers".
Countdown to the budget for FY22 has started and it will be interesting to watch what the pandemic has taught the government and how will it medicate its ailing healthcare sector.