Shortage of healthcare personnel could exacerbate Covid healthcare crisis; rope in final-year nursing, medical students
At the same time, states will need to do what many did last year: invited retired doctors and nurses to come join the health workforce again for honoraria and other incentives.
The current reportage on the healthcare crisis wrought by India’s second Covid-19 surge has focused on the overwhelmed healthcare infrastructure and materials supply—from hospitals running out of beds and oxygen to shortages of crucial medicines. Dr Devi Shetty of Narayana Hrudalaya, whose policy prescriptions have been sought by different governments, sees another crisis coming—a shortage of healthcare hands needed—which would exacerbate the current situation if urgent steps, some of which Shetty has recommended in an article in The Times of India, aren’t taken.
Bear in mind, India, even in a non-pandemic context, has deficiencies of healthcare workforce, most recently brought to the fore by the Rural Health Statistics. Shetty warns that with the positivity rate likely to stay at 25-30% for the next 3-4 months, and with the informed assumption that for every patient recorded as positive, five positive cases are going unreported—even a scenario in which 5% of the patients need ICU support for 10 days could bring intensive care in the country to its knees given the total ICU capacity in the country stands under a lakh and there are simply not enough intensivists around to take charge of this potential situation.
Shetty recommends changing the regulations to allow nurses and other paramedical students who have finished their training and waiting to give their final exams—nearly 2.2 lakh such nursing students are there in the country—and 25,000 specialist-prospects (doctors who are on the verge of completing their medical/surgical specialty training) to be marshaled for Covid ICU work for one year. The government can incentivise them on this by exempting them from having to appear qualifying exams and giving them preference for government employment in the future.
The same can be done for medical graduates looking to get into PG courses—the incentive can be grace marks when they sit for the national eligibility test that is a prerequisite for PG admissions. Offering recognition to hitherto unrecognised (by the Indian authorities) specialist certifications can bolster the healthcare personnel numbers further. At the same time, states will need to do what many did last year: invited retired doctors and nurses to come join the health workforce again for honoraria and other incentives.