Ad-hoc Medics Of NRHM

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NRHM is a centrally sponsored scheme with only 10 percent financial support by state government.  And Singh said that the demand of regularization of these employees had been taken with the central government under this scheme. “The central government told us that its state’s prerogative and hence it is for state to take decision on the matter,” 

Asem Mohiuddin

Srinagar: From past one week thousands of employees who have been employed under National Rural Health Mission – (NRHM) and are serving across the state are on indefinite strike.

These doctors and Paramedical staff who have been appointed time to time by the J&K’s Health department since the inception of this unique scheme that has emerged as one of the successful schemes of the country, have become the backbone of this system especially in rural areas of the Valley where there is acute dearth of doctors and other medical staff.

Photo: Zahir Farooq

Photo: Zahir Farooq

As the strike continues by the affected doctors and paramedical staff, the negotiations with the J&K’s Health Minister, Bali Baghat and other officials have failed. The NRHM staff members some of whom are now working in different hospitals and Primary Health Centers from more than seven years want their regularization and want that state government especially the Health department to regularize their services as they are eyeing on the vacant posts in the J&K Health department.

As per the figures thousands of posts are lying vacant in J&K Health Services department and these posts could be filled by regularizing these doctors and paramedics currently working in the different parts of the state. However, the biggest problem before the state government is that the doctors are employed under national scheme and state government is handicapped to take any firm decision. This scheme is going throughout the country and it will not be easy for the Central government to implement certain benefits to its employees in one state while neglecting the other states. Any lenient approach towards the protesting employees of J&K by New Delhi may trigger a bigger crisis at national level.

Meanwhile, the strike by over 8000 employees has left its impact on the health services especially in remote and far flung areas of the Valley. These employees are running the show in absence of doctors and paramedical staff. Even the services rendered by the doctors and paramedical staff in remote areas have been acknowledged by the top Health officials.

“These employees are doing great job despite they receive consolidated amount from the government. The demands are genuine but at the same time they should not try to punish common people who are suffering because of their services,’’ said a top Health official. 

Abdul Rauf of Jammu and Kashmir National Health Employees Association said that their demand is regularization of over 12,000 employees.

 “From last three years we are pressing for our genuine demands. Every time government turned blind eye towards our demands. It is the government and the official apathy that we have been forced to take this decision and our strike has left the Health service crippled,” he said adding that they (NRHM) staff also want to end the strike as they know people are suffering.

“The government and the people especially patients should realize that our future is at stake and we have to do something about our future.’’

 Another protesting employee was critical about the attitude of the government for resolving this issue. “Instead of listening to our genuine grievances, the government used police to thrash us, dozens of our employees were thrashed and many received stitches. This is how doctors and paramedics in this state are being treated,’’ he said. 

Dr. Mohammad Ramzan who is posted in North Kashmir and is also part of the protests said that due to meagre salary they are unable to run their families and meet expenses.

“I can’t think of enrolling my son in a good school because I know I can’t bear the expenses. Same is the case with other people employed under this scheme.’’

Another doctor Muzaffar Ahmad posted in South Kashmir said that primary health services, antenatal care, emergency services, immunization, sick new born unit(SNCU), adolescent education programme are all affected.

“The government is managing staff from district hospitals. It is inadequate and managing only emergency services to some extent. They are presenting rosy picture which is not the case,” he said. Ahmad said that they are aware that state government can’t do much but at least they should start to take step towards our regularization.

“Some of our colleagues are already over age. There future and the future of their families is bleak and politicians should realize it,’’ he said adding that government should at least form some frame work to get our problems redressed.

The strike of NRHM has now started effecting SNCU’s in district hospitals as these SNCU’s are being managed by staff members from the NRHM. “I have no option but to close the SNCU for new born as services have been badly affected. And the only option with us is to refer the patients,’’ said a senior Health Official. Most of these SNCU’s had played a pivotal role in saving the lives of new born.

Director National Health Mission Dr. Mohan Singh admits that the strike of the NRHM health employees have affected the health services across the state.

“Everybody is concerned and we are trying to resolve the issue and find the solution of this deadlock. Even Health Minister is taking interest in this issue and is trying to get feedback from the other departments.’’

So far first two rounds of negotiations between the Health officials and striking employees have failed as the employees want written assurance from the top health officials that their issue will be resolved.

“For us to give a written assurance will be difficult as this is a Mission run by the Centre government. But we are trying every possible help to these employees who have been working efficiently in rural areas,’’ said a top official.

NRHM is a centrally sponsored scheme with only 10 percent financial support by state government.  And Singh said that the demand of regularization of these employees had been taken with the central government under this scheme. “The central government told us that its state’s prerogative and hence it is for state to take decision on the matter,” he said.

The director said that matter is under state government’s domain. “Let us see what decision state government takes on the matter.”

Recently, Minister of State for Health – Asiya Naqash and Director Health Services Kashmir also acknowledged the services of NRHM employees especially doctors and nurses and said that department is concerned about their future. As the strike has affected the rural health system, J&K chief minister, Mehbooba Mufti should try to resolve this issue. 

Police use fore to disperse protesting doctors in Srinagar/Photo/The Legitimate

Police use fore to disperse protesting doctors in Srinagar/Photo/The Legitimate

Though government used police to discourage the employees who were protesting in Srinagar and even were thrashed with batons and tear smoke shells, however time has come when this issue should be resolved as in the J&K many hundreds of posts are lying vacant.

Newly appointed doctors who come through Public Service Commission are not ready to serve in rural areas. Once appointed these doctors use politicians, ministers, bureaucrats, assembly members to get posted in Srinagar or district headquarters that badly affects the health services in remote areas. Even doctors born in rural areas want their posting in Srinagar.

So time has come when government should adopt some mechanism that these doctors and other employees should be regularized at vacant posts with a bond that they will serve their areas for 15 years, otherwise the lingering of this issue can snowball into a major crisis especially in the health sector.

“It is irony that new doctors who get appointed through Public Service Commission use every kind of influence to get prized posting. And here are doctors and medical staff who are serving in rural areas are not been regularized. The government should try to create a mechanism through which career of these employees should be saved and their services could be utilized in a nice way,’’ engineer Tariq Mughloo, secretary Traders Federation Baramulla said.

President of the NHM Employees Association, Shaheen Shah said that government has assured them that a high level committee will be constituted that will look into their demands, especially the regularization that is our top demand.

“We were invited by Speaker of Legislative Assembly Kavinder Gupta also and he assured us that he will personally intervene into the matter. We have been assured that a high-level committee will be formed soon. This committee is expected to frame a draft policy which should happen soon.” 

At the same time employees should realize that their demands are genuine but people should not suffer. Their absence from the duties could also be responsible for the death of patients especially infants as most of the SNCU’s are defunct.

The story appeared in print edition of March 15 to 21, 2017.

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