In a significant development, a Cabinet subcommittee, set up to examine the demands of government doctors, on Wednesday unanimously decided to merge the departments of Medical Education and Health and Family Welfare. The two departments were under a single head till 1996-97. H. Sudershan, who headed a task force on health, in a 2001 report recommended the merger of these departments.

This decision, if approved by the Government, will not only help in streamlining the availability of doctors and medical services across the State but also put an end to disparities in employment benefits of the staff in these two departments.

The agitating doctors and staff from the Health Department, who called off their strike on Tuesday, have been demanding that the 10 district hospitals be delinked from the government medical colleges. Now, they have welcomed the subcommittee decision.

The hospitals that were under the Health Department were attached to the medical colleges after 2006 to fulfil Medical Council of India’s norms that said all new colleges should have their own clinical facilities.

The main grouse of the Health Department doctors is that they have lost all promotion opportunities beyond the taluk level after these hospitals got attached to the medical colleges under the control of the Medical Education Department.

The merger of the two departments would put an end to all these problems, including the shortage of specialists.

Of the 2,943 sanctioned posts of specialists in the Health Department, 1,221 are vacant making it inevitable for people to visit private hospitals for advanced treatment. The department runs 2,310 primary health centres, 375 community health centres, 169 taluk hospitals and 17 district hospitals. Of these, 10 hospitals are attached to the Medical Education Department.

Sources in the Cabinet subcommittee told The Hindu that a four-member panel, headed by an Additional Chief Secretary, would be set up to study the feasibility of such a merger. The committee, comprising Principal Secretaries of Health and Family Welfare, Medical Education and Law and Parliamentary Affairs, will have to submit its report to the Cabinet sub-committee in three months, the sources said.

“Based on the report, the Cabinet subcommittee will place the subject before the Cabinet. This merger will be a win-win situation for both patients and doctors. It will be based on the Gujarat model where a single department manages medical education and health services,” the sources said.

As of now health services in the State are managed by multiple government departments and agencies such as the Health and Family Welfare Directorate, the Medical Education Department, Employees State Insurance.

In Bangalore, the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike has a parallel health service with six referral hospitals, 25 maternity homes and 28 heath centres.

Although all these agencies provide health services, there is very little communication and coordination between them causing hardship to patients. Many primary level facilities are underused because of shortage of staff and services.

Patients from across the State are referred to secondary and tertiary level hospitals such as Bowring and Lady Curzon, Victoria, KC General and Vani Vilas in Bangalore. As a result, these hospitals are overcrowded. This apart, the government is planning to start the National Urban Health Mission in Bangalore.

In the first phase, the government plans to set up 198 urban health centres in Bangalore on a pilot basis.

More In: Karnataka | National