Union Budget 2022 | Boost to mental healthcare sector welcome, others services ignored: experts

Many feel that the Budget had given a cold shoulder again to the medical device industry.

February 01, 2022 03:33 pm | Updated 10:15 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Healthcare industry experts have expressed mixed reactions to the Union Budget 2022 stating that while the boost to the mental health sector is welcome, the Budget does not hold very much promise to other essential service in the healthcare sector, including the crucial medical device industry.

Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Tuesday while presenting the Union Budget 2022 in the second year of the COVID-19 that the pandemic had accentuated the mental health problems in people of all ages and announced the plan to set up a National Tele-Mental Health programme in India. The Minister announced that 23 tele-mental health centres would be launched with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) as the nodal centre.

“To better the access to quality mental health counseling and care services, a National-Tele Mental Health programme will be launched. The Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) Bangalore, will provide tech support for the mental health programme,’’ she said. Besides this the Minister announced that an open platform for the national digital health ecosystem would be rolled out and it would consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity and universal access to health facilities. Additional she said that 95% of 112 aspirational districts had made significant progress in health and other parameters and that efforts would now be made to work on districts that were lagging.

‘Disappointing Budget’

The healthcare industry experts have expressed mixed reactions at the Budget with K. Sujatha Rao, former secretary, Health Ministry, tweeting: “A disappointing budget for health and education. Need to remember that roads and ports don’t make sense if people are illiterate and sick ! And such disdain for these human capability sectors after the trauma we have faced due to a poor health system is simply being irresponsible.’’

Rajiv Nath, forum coordinator, Association of Indian Medical Device Industry, also expressed deep disappointment and anguish, saying the Union Budget 2022 had given a cold shoulder again to the Indian medical device industry. He added that there was nothing laudable for the healthcare industry in the budget. Mr. Nath said that the industry was expecting the government to move forward on promised reforms and anticipated conducive measures to boost domestic manufacturing of medical devices. Stating that the Budget had no strategic measures to boost domestic manufacturing, he said that these were the same domestic manufacturers, when imports got disrupted during COVID-19 crisis, the government relied heavily on to meet the rising demand of essential COVID items for the country pushing the Indian medical devices sector to become self-reliant.

``It is frustrating that against our expectations, the government has not included any measures to help end the 80-85% import dependence forced upon India and an ever-increasing import bill of over ₹46,000 crore and promoting growth of the Indian medical device industry other than repeating last year’s assurance to end custom exemptions of products that can be made in India,’’ he said. “The only positive announcement was on public procurement by allowing 75% prompt payments and bringing in a weighted price preference on account of quality which is especially critical in healthcare related medical devices,” he added.

The mental health component of the Budget came in for praise with Dr. Rana Mehta of the PwC India stating that the pandemic had caused a silent global mental health epidemic. The use of telemedicine to diagnose and treat such patients had proved to be highly effective given the unobtrusive nature of the interaction which also ensured patient privacy. “Given the shortage of mental health professionals, especially in rural areas, telemedicine would greatly enhance accessibility for patients requiring psychiatric help,” Dr. Mehta said.

Dr. Ravi Wankhedkar, past president of the Indian Medical Association, said that the ‘devil is in the details’ — digital service in health sector is welcome but what about data security and patient confidentiality. These are biggest threats.

Dr. Shuchin Bajaj, Founder Director, Ujala Cygnus Group of Hospitals, said, “When we were struggling with the massive pandemic second wave last year, we thought that the only silver lining out of this would be that the current state of health care facilities in the country would attract the attention of the government, especially the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. And we will see a big push towards healthcare spending, at least to the promise 3% of the GDP that the government has been promising since a long time. Unfortunately, we haven’t heard much on health care and education in this budget. Overall haven’t had any exciting news so far from the Budget, which we were looking forward to.”

Dr. Alok Roy, member, FICCI, Health Services Committee and Chairman Medica Group of Hospitals, said that it was expected that the government would look at increasing the healthcare expenditure above 2.5% of the GDP but there was not adequate attention paid to it.

“Although there had been a rise of 137% allocation in healthcare sector last year, much was fulfilled in reality by the government. Overall, the proposals made in the Budget 22-23, should have made quality healthcare accessible and affordable. The government should have focused more on primary healthcare investment and made the healthcare system as National Priority’ status, as was done for the IT sector,” he said.

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