Striding towards progress, the healthcare domain in Eastern India is at a turning point. Looking ahead for an optimal infrastructural transformation coupled with highend technological services, the eastern region healthcare fraternity is burgeoning towards a robust growth, writes Prathiba Raju of Elets News Network (ENN)
The healthcare sector in West Bengal and North Eastern region is garnering enough steam as each state government is focusing in the reforms and policies of the domain. They are implementing effective financial mechanisms as well as governmental reforms and policies.
Combating multiple challenges like paucity of funds, lack of physical infrastructure and policies, eastern India is now progressing towards building a comprehensive, affordable healthcare for all.
West Bengal government has given a major boost and they have decided to infuse `2,600 crore in the state health sector. The state government is all set to layout its plan for upcoming 40 superspecialist hospitals accommodating 500 beds each in West Midnapore, East Midnapore, Purulia, Bankura, Birbhum, Jalpaiguri, South 24- Parganas and North 24-Parganas offering healthcare facilities in cardiology, nephrology, urology, endocrinology. The state is also in the process of investing `250 crore in procuring radio therapy equipments, offering low cost cancer care facility to the people of the state.
As for the North East region, the Vision-2020 document emphasise on the overall improvement in the health status of the region. The vision document states that apart from physical expansion of healthcare facilities, access to quality health services remains low in remote areas as well as in urban areas, especially for women and children.
In the last three years, 10,000 health professionals had been recruited. The total number of hospital beds in the state currently is 63,000 and it would become 80,000 by March 2016.
A report published by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, public healthcare expense is amounting to not more than 0.5 per cent individually in all north eastern states except Assam where the healthcare spending the public health sector is almost 2.5 per cent of the states GDP. All the states except Assam in NE India fare quite low than the national average of one per cent of GDP spending on healthcare sector by the government. Experts cite that higher spending on healthcare sector will be a welcoming step as there are various avenues to invest on to improve the healthcare delivery system like establishment of educational institutes to produce more trained manpower, setting up on new healthcare facilities in deprived locations, up-gradation of existing facilities to improve efficiency, better technology for better clinical outcome, continuous training efforts for existing employees, etc.
The entire healthcare industry has gone through a massive transition; it has reached to a different level of development
The entire healthcare industry has gone through a massive transition; it has reached to a different level of development. Nowadays patients have become more knowledgeable and tech savvy. These factors has pushed us to extend our horizons and helped us to revamp our service level excellence, said Dr Ashendu Pandey, Former CEO, C K Birla Hospitals, Kolkata.
Fast tracking Healthcare
West Bengal and North Eastern states have repositioned itself as a forward-looking state and they are enabling to become a major healthcare hub for neighbouring countries like Bangladesh, Bhutan, Myanmar and Nepal as these regions healthcare services are yet to achieve desired levels.
The West Bengal State Health Secretary Malay Kumar De recently informed that the states health ministry is trying to do scientific mapping of health infrastructure by identify the gaps where there is lack of manpower, equipments and trying to realign to ensure a seamless health services in the state.
With insurgency under control it is expected that there would be large investments from business houses in the healthcare facilities. In next five years we would be able to see various patient centric healthcare delivery systems that would be accessible, affordable and readily available
In the last three years, 10,000 health professionals had been recruited. About 4,000 to 5,000 more doctors, nurses and technician would be recruited in near future, De informed, adding that in the government sector, the total number of hospital beds in the state currently was 63,000 and it would become 80,000 by March next year.
The aim is to deliver quality health services to people across and provide affordable healthcare for all, said West Bengal Medical Council (WBMC), President, Nirmal Majhi.
Seven Sisters of India -Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Manipur, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura known has the heaven for nature lovers is now gaining momentum in healthcare delivery with the Centres Act East policy.
We can expect higher allocation of funds and more importantly better utilisation of the same to improve the healthcare sector in the region. Also, we can expect the private sector to grow in an impressive manner considering the growth potential of the region. Considering the potential of NE India, certain big corporate groups like Narayana Healthcare and Apollo have already set their mark in this region. Many other groups are also earnestly looking forward to establish themselves in the NE region after conducting thorough due diligence to run healthcare businesses, Jyoti Ram Das, Managing Partner Integra Ventures told Elets News Network (ENN).
North East states have enough potential if proper health infrastructure is provided they states would turn to be a key healthcare provider
He also added that one of the major advancement in the public health sector in NE region are the real time transmission of data to capture major health indicators which in turn help the authorities to take informed decisions for improvement of the healthcare sector.
Healthcare Window of Asia
Taking the strategic geographical location to its advantage, among West Bengal Kolkata and North East state – Assam, Arunachal Pradesh is enhancing to become a hub of medical tourism in SE Asia. To meet the medical needs of neighbouring states like Jharkhand, Bihar, and Chhattisgarh. Patients from Bangladesh, Nepal and Bhutan regularly come here for specialised treatment.
West Bengal being the gateway of entire eastern India it caters to a large population including the neighbouring countries of Nepal, Bhutan and Bangladesh. Most of the people from NE India prefer travelling to Delhi or South India for their medical needs rather than West Bengal. The need of the hour is to establish state of art centres of excellence in West Bengal which will benefit the entire region. People mostly travel outside for availing tertiary care services in the areas of cardiac sciences, orthopedics, neuro sciences, oncology and organ transplantation. Travelling to distant places adds up to the woes of the ailing families and accessibility of such facilities in the state of West Bengal will be a big boon for the people, Das said.
Enhanced infrastructure and skilled manpower will help the eastern states to be a major healthcare hub, as the low cost and quality healthcare will be an advantage. No doubt, east is positioning itself as a favoured destination for medical tourism.
North East states have enough potential if proper health infrastructure is provided it will boost the economy. The seven states would turn to be a key healthcare provider, informed M Nagaraju, Secretary Health and Family Welfare, Tripura.
Talking about potential of NE in medical tourism Dr Subhash Khanna, Chief medical director, Swagat Super Speciality Surgical Institute (SSSSI) informed Elets News Network (ENN) that states in the NE region have a great potential of developing it into a medical tourist destination.
The establishment of quality hospitals shall draw not only Indian patients but many patients from other Asian countries and Middle East and even US where cost of treatment and surgery is at least 12 times more than in India. I have been getting many NRI Indians and many US nationals who have started travelling to this part of the country and with insurgency at all time low many more are expected to come to the north east, Khanna added.
The entire healthcare canvas of Bengal has changed with time, today we are fast paced and edgy and we can provide any advanced treatment at an affordable price within the state
But experts mention that states should concentrate on improving the proper infrastructure facilities like good roads, airport facilities so East India could compete with the rest of the country and the Asian countries.
We always have the edge of having skilled doctors but, we will have to provide better facilities for the comfort and safety of the patients flying in from abroad, Khanna added.
Other than Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya (post graduate institute), the rest of the states do not have a single medical college to its credibility. The availability of trained workforce is a prerequisite to the growth of the sector
Enhancing Skilled Manpower “ A Must
Though state like West Bengal and North East states are focused in progressing the healthcare wheel, experts intimate that both in West Bengal and NE region is burdened of manpower scarcity which remains a major constraint in rendering quality healthcare services. The availability of trained workforce is a prerequisite to the growth of the sector.
The entire industry is facing a massive dearth of manpower and we need fresh and talented people who can chip in and meet the demands of the fast growing healthcare industry. People are coming into nursing, but fat pay packages are luring them to the Middle East, Dr Pandey informed.
Healthcare segment in east faces dearth of the skilled manpower due to lack of credible medical institutions and availability of quality teaching staff.
Other than Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya (post graduate institute), the rest of the states do not have a single medical college to its credibility. The availability of trained workforce is a prerequisite to the growth of the sector. The state governments have given priority to increase manpower in medical and paramedical institutes across different district headquarters of the NE region, Das added.
Bangladesh plays a very important part in adding up revenue to the healthcare, economy of the state of Bengal, a gamut of patients comes into Kolkata to get affordable and good treatment in Bengal
However, experts opine that availability of quality teaching staff remains a major challenge for the state governments to deliver education. For the manpower issue to get resolved, another five to ten years will be required to fill the gap to a substantial extent till the states start producing trained manpower from the newly proposed or recently commissioned institutes in various cities of North East.
The healthcare sector in the region should also focus to improve the utilisation of these facilities. The underlying factor for low utilisation of these healthcare facilities is lack of accountability on part of the employees, Das added.
Bridging the skill gap is on the anvil says Khanna, citing that five years from now there will be a tremendous growth of medical industry in the NE region particularly in the state of Assam, Manipur and Meghalaya.
Though the market share of this industry is extremely small, but because of the apt leadership of the Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee, the healthcare industry in Bengal is moving in the right direction
The way private hospitals are focusing in the NE region they would give tough competition to the local entrepreneurs to improve their infrastructure and facilities. Many more private hospitals would be added that would provide multiple healthcare facilities under one roof. With insurgency under control it is expected that there would be large investments from business houses in the healthcare facilities. In the next five years we would be able to see various patient centric healthcare delivery systems that would be accessible, affordable and readily available. The SSSSI in Guwahati (Assam) is one such beginning where on an average over `70 lakhs per bed is spent to provide best of the care to the people of the region, he added.
The integration of information technology in healthcare and digital patient-enablement journey is growing pan India, and eastern part is also imbibing IT in healthcare to bridge the gap in NE states and upgrade the healthcare reach in West Bengal.
IT – A Game Changer for East Healthcare
With an increase in smart phone usage and telemedicine a vogue, large portion of the populations health needs served through mHealth technologies both the NE and West Bengal should enable technology. The experts cite that state government should consider a low budget telehealthcentre which would help cities in the northeast, which are ill-connected.
Technology usage in the healthcare sector is grossly concentrated towards selected urban locations like Guwahati, Shillong, Dibrugarh and Imphal. Low paying capacity , lack of after sales service remain some of the major reasons and healthcare facilities both in the private and government sectors are equipped with hospital management software solution , which are used for basic transaction processes like registration and billing, informed Das.
The government has to come forward and encourage PPP models in the healthcare domain because the random growth of the private players in the state will not benefit the overall growth of healthcare
Major advancement in the public health sector is the real time transmission of data to capture major health indicators which in turn help the authorities to take informed decisions for improvement of the healthcare sector.
We pick up and train people for our own needs, as the entire industry is going through a massive manpower crisis at this moment
As for West Bengal there prime focus is to enhance the IT in healthcare state with the help of technology. For example hospitals like CK Birla, AMRI are using latest technologies like Skype, Whatsapp and video conferencing which gives broader outreach to our healthcare facilities.
The entire approach towards healthcare changed after a massive influx of managers crowded this space and created a new vision with their stand aside approach towards healthcare and embarked a new era of healthcare in Bengal
Taking a New Direction
The eastern region healthcare segment is looking into a positive roadmap. With investment trend increasing, opportunities opening for medical tourism, various state governments imbibing digitisation and the healthcare is growing slowly but steadily transforming east into a hot spot for investment in terms of healthcare sector.