Medical negligence has been a hot topic for many weeks now. It has been implicated as a contributing factor in the Gorakhpur tragedy, in which 70 children and newborns lost their lives over the course of a week. It has also been cited as the reason behind numerous other cases of child mortality. Is there really widespread negligence?
Typically these incidents are occurring in government hospitals. A common phenomenon seen in almost all government run hospitals is critical levels of understaffing. Rajasthan for example, has a 35% shortage of doctors and 20% shortage of paramedics in the 36 district hospitals in the state according to the Brookings India Health Monitor. Uttar Pradesh has 87 district hospitals, these hospitals have an average 17% shortage of doctors and 16% shortage of paramedics.
Understaffing of hospitals means a smaller number of doctors having to deal with more patients than they would at full staffing levels, dividing their time and attention between them. This causes an overall reduction in the quality of care as doctors are less able to focus on each individual patient. This in turn creates more room for mistakes. When lives are on the line these mistakes are often unaffordable.
Understaffing may also see many doctors take on longer shifts. This could be a major factor in the accusations of negligence as longer shifts will see doctors working despite potentially being exhausted, leaving room for errors. For doctors involved with surgery or other aspects of critical care, any mistake caused by their tiredness may cost lives.
The state government of Uttar Pradesh — the state in which the Gorakhpur tragedy occurred — is seeking to remedy these levels of understaffing. The posts of 7,328 doctors had been lying vacant for many years said Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Siddharth Nath Singh. To remedy the staffing issues the Uttar Pradesh Public Service Commission has issued a list of 2,065 selected positions that will be posted within government hospitals across the state.
While the addition of just over 2000 doctors does not entirely remedy the shortage of over 7000 within the state, it does ease the issue. As in the previous example of Rajasthan, in which doctor shortages are even more severe than Uttar Pradesh, the intervention of the state government may be a necessity.
More doctors throughout the state is obviously beneficial. However, in order to provide benefits to all residents of the state, the shortage of doctors in rural areas must be addressed. Rural areas bear the brunt of the deficit of medical workers. By increasing the number of doctors in rural areas, fewer patients would need to travel to urban hospitals, reducing the saturation of patients to doctors in urban areas.