Healthcare sector in India: Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman took cognisance of the economic devastation that the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic caused and accordingly, on Monday announced a slew of measures to boost the different sectors affected due to the pandemic. Amid this, measures were also announced to boost the public healthcare system, which was overburdened during the second wave and needs to be ready for a predicted third wave as well. Sitharaman announced a credit guarantee scheme of Rs 50,000 crore meant to give a boost to healthcare infrastructure in cities other than the eight metros the country has. She also announced an outlay of Rs 23,200 crore that needs to be immediately made available to the Union Health Ministry, and this outlay has a special focus on paediatric health infrastructure, keeping in view the prediction that the third wave of coronavirus would affect children more.
The announcements have been largely well received by industry players, who were of the view that these measures were a much-needed relief for the stressed healthcare sector in India.
Dr Gurpreet Sandhu, President, Council for Healthcare and Pharma, expressed the support for the announcement, saying, “The stimulus package of Rs 50,000 crore for the health sector has come as a huge relief. A guaranteed coverage of 50% for expansion of health-related projects and 75% for new projects has shown the government’s commitment towards improving the present battered state of affairs. Since the second wave has exposed the condition of the healthcare system, it was the need of the hour to scale up the medical infrastructure. India’s COVID-19 catastrophe was a result of years of neglecting its public health care structure and a substantial investment to ameliorate the infrastructure is of utmost importance now.”
“An additional Rs 23, 220 crores for the public health sector is a welcome step. Focusing on short-term emergency preparedness with an emphasis on children and paediatric care/paediatric beds, the move will surely help the sector get ready for another impending pandemic wave. One thing that the sector faced during the second wave was the shortage of medical staff and funding for short-term HR augmentation through medical students and nursing students will definitely give the existing medical staff some breathing space,” Dr Sandhu added.
Ashok Patel, CEO & Founder, Max Ventilator, said, “Recently, we have all been helpless witness to our limited healthcare infrastructure struggling to cope with the needs of Covid patients especially during the second Covid phase. Keeping this in mind and in view of the Covid-driven economic slowdown, this is a much-needed respite for the healthcare infrastructure as well as the broader economy. That the finance minister has announced Rs 50,000 crore for the health sector alone implies the centrality that the sector holds at the highest levels of the government. With the provision of 75% coverage for new projects and 50% for expansion of projects, the government has maintained a balance between the imperative to establish new facilities and the need to upgrade the old ones.”
Patel added, “The focus on tier II and III cities is particularly satisfying which would go a long way in addressing the big city-small town healthcare gap in the country. The 50% guaranteed coverage for aspirational districts for both new and expansion projects is particularly noteworthy in this regard. At the same time, the considerable allocation to child and pediatric care must also be appreciated. With the predictions of an even more destructive third wave, these policy stimuli would also give some momentum to health facilities and infrastructure across the country in the immediate term too.”
Meanwhile, Charu Sehgal, Partner, Deloitte India, said, “The last year has demonstrated the dire need for an upgrade in both our private and public healthcare infrastructure and systems. The FMs announcements providing support to the healthcare sector is therefore timely. Shortage of infrastructure in tier 2 and 3 was a gap that was starkly visible during the last year. Allocation of funds for this as well as easing availability of cheap finance for private sector investment in it are welcome steps. Specific focus on paediatric care will hopefully cater to some long term improvements in this segment. It is equally important however to ensure that these funds are in fact utilised and a clear time bound investment plan is laid out. Often we have seen that budgeted allocations are not used. Another critical gap is the acute shortage of healthcare resources, infrastructure without staff and equipment is of limited use. It is good to see that there is a provision for some short term solutions to this issue as well.”
“The measures announced by the FM are a much needed step in bolstering the healthcare infrastructure in India. Investment in modern equipment, including on-site Oxygen gas generation systems, can be a costly affair. Hospitals and nursing homes in urban and semi-urban India will benefit from direct financial support measures provided by the Government. Reliable supply of oxygen through an on-site oxygen generator will alleviate the woes experienced all over India during the ongoing second wave and provide independence to hospitals for years to come,” Siddharth Rastogi, Executive Director, MVS Engineering Pvt Ltd, said.