“The West Bengal government’s emphasis on improving healthcare services in the state is reflected in a steep upward curve of the healthcare spend in the Budget, going from Rs3,584 crore in 2011 to Rs9,557 crore in 2019,” Binod Kumar, secretary, department of health and family welfare, Government of West Bengal, said at the inauguration of the 14th CII-East Healthcare Summit in Kolkata on Friday (September 27).
Continuing with the deliberations, Kumar said there had been a “quantum jump” in the number of doctors at government hospitals, up from 4,800 in 2011 to 11,700 in the current year and of nurses, up from 37,000 in 2011 to 52,850 in 2019. The health secretary added that 42 new super-specialty hospitals had been set up with 6,483 paramedics and 30,000 support staff and tenders floated for 27 private nursing schools to bolster the number of caregivers in health services.
Speaking about making healthcare affordable in the state, Kumar mentioned the Swasthya Sathi scheme in West Bengal, which has brought 75 million of the state’s population under its cover with Rs5 lakh per anum health benefit for a family which includes parents of both spouses, a unique initiative in the country.
According to Kumar, West Bengal is nationally ahead in terms of system delivery, immunization and low infant and female mortality rates and has been able to come up with a considerable number of sick newborn baby units, paediatric intensive-care units and trauma care units, along with a remarkable increase in government hospital beds.
The government had also been able to leverage IT platforms for the Swasthya Sathi package and payment claims of the scheme, Kumar added. Along with the initiative of online OPD bookings, the department was mooting the idea of OPD bookings at railway hospitals to decongest hospitals, the health secretary said. Kumar called for a strong partnership between the government and corporate houses to take forward accessible and affordable healthcare in West Bengal.
Andrew Ford, consul general of Australia in Kolkata elaborated on how India and Australia can come together to forge a strong partnership in areas of quality and remote care, alternative medicines, chronic disease management, critical support expertise, geriatric care, increasing women workforce participation, high-end research, critical trials and other varied geographies. Ford added that India can complement his country in terms of traditional knowledge-base and its large talent pool. In this partnership, West Bengal will play a crucial role because of its strategic international boundaries, he added.
In his special address, Dr Girdhar J Gyani, Director-General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India), said India’s ranking of 130 among 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) and 112 among 191 countries on WHO ratings on healthcare delivery was mostly due to availability of doctors and beds and accessibility of super-specialty hospitals in Tier-II and III cities. This, according to Dr Gyani, is an area of concern and needs to be dealt with. The affordability issue in health had been addressed to a large extent through political will and various government health schemes, he said, adding that the area of preventive healthcare was a space where the private sector could play a “crucial role”.
BM Jamal Hossain, minister (Political) and HoC, Deputy High Commission, Bangladesh, and Eaknarayan Aryal, Consul-General of Nepal in Kolkata, dwelt at length about the affordability and quality of healthcare available in West Bengal and spoke about the hiccups that Bangladeshi and Nepalese patients have to deal with while accessing hospitals in the state. They requested the stakeholders to come together and sort them out, so that more people could travel to this part of the world for medical purposes.
Manish K Khemka, Executive Director, Norvic International Hospital, Nepal, elaborated on the role of disruptive innovation, which he termed “the new dotcom” and which, according to him, should be taken up at the leadership level, also keeping in mind the “human touch in services”.
The 14th Healthcare East Summit had sessions on CEOs’ Roundtable: Enhancing Trust through better Care: Building a Culture of Faith in Healthcare Delivery System; Capacity Building through Technological Interventions: Future Trends and Health Entrepreneurship-Exploring Opportunities to expand the horizon and reaching out to the last mile.