New Delhi: India’s health ministry has approved the setting up of nine institutes dedicated to training allied health workers as part of a shift towards a team-based system rather than a doctor-centric one.
The institutes will generate 10,765 allied health professionals annually, setting the stage for rolling out universal health care under the 12th Five-Year Plan.
The decision is part of a policy change to reach under-served, semi-urban and rural areas of the country, where doctors have traditionally refused to relocate. The health ministry has allocated a budget of Rs.1,100 crore for the project.
There is a total national shortage of 6.4 million allied health personnel in India, according to the health ministry’s National Institute of Allied Health Sciences (NIAHS) report, which will be released on 21 December by health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad. The biggest gaps are in Uttar Pradesh, West Bengal, Maharashtra, Bihar and Andhra Pradesh.
Allied health professionals or AHPs are technicians and therapists, such as radiological technicians, medical laboratory technicians, occupational therapy assistants, etc., who acquire procedural skills. Investment in their training are usually considerably less than that for a physician. Training of AHPs takes around two years, making them a cost-effective and a reliable alternative in areas where physicians are not available.
“Allied health personnel-led services significantly reduce the costs of similar services structured around a consultant-physician model,” said Kavita Narayan, study coordinator, NIAHS, Public Health Foundation of India. “This is an attempt to deliver seamless services to patients, creating a model of social solidarity. AHPs also provide rapid responses to patient needs in areas where services of general physicians are not available. They complement skills sets of doctors and nurses in therapeutic, diagnostic and curative realms of medicine.”
The national and regional institutes of allied health sciences will offer 26 different courses. The councils for each of these specialities, along the lines of the Medical Council of India (MCI), will also be set up to monitor and govern each subject, enforce norms, standardize course durations and training methodologies. Currently, there is no regulatory body to govern allied health sciences in India.
“Human resources are a critical factor which will have considerable impact on policies in the health sector. Investing in human resources and retaining skilled workers will be key to success of health reforms under the 12th Plan,” said Vishwas Mehta, joint secretary, health ministry.
“The nine institutions are a part of targeted intervention the health ministry is making to develop a skilled health workforce. Besides meeting demand-supply gaps in health workforce, the problem of availability of health services in under-served areas can be effectively addressed by task shifting and a team-based approach to health care delivery,” he said. The health ministry will set up expert panels to standardize course curricula for all 26 subjects, which will be reviewed periodically.