Bihar: Second Time in 6 Months, State Govt set to Take Action Against Absentee Doctors
Patna: Faced with shortage of doctors in government-run hospitals in Bihar, the state government has initiated some measures to improve health facilities. As part of this, the government is taking action against doctors who have been absent from duty for years.
Five months after sacking more than 60 doctors of government- run hospitals for being absent from duty for years, the Nitish Kumar government is now set to take action against over 60 more ‘missing’ doctors.
According to state health department officials, a notice has been issued to more than 60 doctors of different government- run hospitals across the state, asking them to submit explanation for their unauthorised absence within two weeks or face strict disciplinary action.
"The government will dismiss all those absent doctors who fail to submit their explanation within the deadline. In January this year, the government had dismissed dozens of doctors for being absent for years", a senior health department official, requesting anonymity, told NewsClick.
The official said the action was part of Deputy Chief Minister Tejashwi Yadav's plan to improve health facilities.
"Absence from the duty for one year or more without proper leave invites action, including dismissal, under the provisions of government servant conduct rules," he added.
Poor health infrastructure in Bihar is not new as the state has hit headlines several times in recent years. The challenge to make a turnaround soon is, therefore, huge.
The government took the first action in mid-January after the state cabinet, chaired by the Chief Minister, approved the health department’s proposal for sacking absentee doctors. As per the official release, of the total 81 doctors, some were had been absent for 20 years to 15 years and some for 12 years. A total of 64 doctors have been absent from duty for more than five years.
Despite the government's focus on improving health facilities in government-run hospitals, including the reputed Patna Medical College and Hospital, local newspapers have been regularly reporting about the absence of doctors. Poor attendance of doctors is common and directly hits health care, depriving people, especially the poor, of basic medical treatment.
Another senior health department official told NewsClick that government doctors and their organisations were not comfortable with Tejashwi Yadav’s initiative to improve health facilities in government-run hospitals.
“Most of these doctors have been doing private practices and making a lot of money. All of them have vested interests in poor health services in government-run hospitals”, he said
Another health official admitted that thousands of patients, primarily poor and marginalised, visit OPDs (out-patient departments) at different hospitals and return without treatment due to unavailability of doctors, medicines, defunct ultrasound and X-ray machines.
These poor people eventually become victims of “jhola chap” (quacks) doctors in rural Bihar.
Thousands of patients who queued up for hours return without even basic check-ups as doctors are absent. Similarly, several seriously ill patients cannot be hospitalised due to unavailability of medical staff or lack of equipment.
Most primary or community health centres are also non-functional, and even district hospitals are facing shortage of doctors and basic medicines.
Last September, Yadav's surprise midnight visit to PMCH had revealed that several doctors and medical staff were absent from duty, and there was lack of sanitation on the premises.
Taking serious note of it, Yadav had called a high-level meeting of all civil surgeons in the state to ensure proper treatment in government hospitals. During the meeting, he reportedly gave a 60-day ultimatum to improve conditions in government-run hospitals.
The Deputy CM also revealed that 705 government doctors were absent from duty or work for more than six months over five to 12 years. Yet, they continued to draw salaries. He has then announced that the government will act against such doctors.
Yadav admitted there were several government doctors posted in rural health centres who hardly work there and instead practice in urban areas.
Last October, hundreds of doctors in government-run hospitals and other health facilities in Bihar had gone on strike to protest against the government's decision to make biometric attendance mandatory.
Lasr year's report by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India (CAG) had also highlighted the alarming healthcare situation in Bihar. The CAG report stated that government-run hospitals – mainly district hospitals – faced a severe lack of resources, workforce, and plans for the growing population. It also said that the number of doctors, nurses and other paramedic staff was significantly low.
There has been a persistent shortage of doctors, nurses, paramedical staff and technicians in Bihar from 2014 to 2020. Yet, the department did not publish the total number of vacancies to get them filled, the report said.
The report highlighted the shortfall of beds, ranging from 52% to 92%. Actual bed strength has not been raised to the sanctioned level even after a decade passed, it noted.
According to the CAG report, the poor state of health care was noticed during the audit of the functioning of hospitals in five districts – Bihar Sharif, Hajipur, Jehanabad, Madhepura, and Patna, for the period 2014-15 to 2019-20.
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