With district authorities scrambling to find trained healthcare staff amid the second wave of COVID-19 in Maharashtra, the Pune Rural administration has come up with an innovative solution to attract the best doctors across the country.
Pune, the worst-hit district in India with over one lakh active cases and 11,000 deaths, has been reporting daily spikes of more than 10,000 cases and 100 fatalities. As the health infrastructure cracks under the strains imposed by the pandemic, the district, especially its rural areas, are facing an acute crunch of good doctors.
While private hospitals and cash-rich civic bodies like the Pune Municipal Corporation have raised doctors’ wages to compensate for their toils and hazards, rural administrations lack the authority and the means to raise their doctors’ salaries and attract trained healthcare personnel at this critical moment.
To overcome this, around 16,000 personnel from the 70-odd cadres of the Pune Zilla Parishad that include teachers, anganwadi workers, engineers and other staff involved in combating the pandemic have come forward and given up a day’s salary to incentivise those of soon-to-be-recruited doctors.
“The rural region has been witnessing surges of 1,600-1,800 cases. Compounding the challenge is that we are not able to attract good doctors. Finding and retaining skilled manpower is a major hurdle. While salaries for doctors serving in government hospitals are fixed by the Union and State governments, local authorities do not have the power to increase salaries of their doctors,” Ayush Prasad, chief executive officer, Pune Zilla Parishad, said.
Given that early management of COVID-19 cases was the key to prevent patients from crashing to the critical care stage, Mr. Prasad said there was a pressing need to recruit trained doctors with salaries to match their counterparts in private hospitals.
To this end, the zilla parishad has advertised 130 positions — 100 M.B.B.S. and 30 M.D. medicine/paediatrics — with salaries of ₹90,000 and ₹1,50,000 respectively for a three-month tenure. These salaries would be jointly paid by funds from the National Health Mission (NHM) as well as the contributory amount given by the zilla parishad’s frontline warriors. Wipro, too, has come forward to contribute to the salaries of two M.D. recruits.
“The Pune Rural administration’s aim is to attract best minds in the medical field. All these frontline workers have contributed a single day’s salary to raise ₹1.97 crore. The employees have agreed to Mr. Prasad’s proposal to incentivise the salaries of soon-to-be recruited doctors to serve in rural areas in dedicated COVID-19 centres and hospitals,” Mahadev Ghule, deputy CEO, Pune Zilla Parishad, said.
Mr. Ghule said that the 100 M.B.B.S. doctors and the 30 M.D. physicians would be paid ₹60,000 and ₹75,000 each respectively from NHM funds and a further ₹30,000 and ₹75,000 each respectively from the money raised from the employee contribution.
“The doctors would be taken on a three-month contract. The recruitment drive is open for doctors across India. We have waived the mandatory requirement of registration with the Maharashtra Medical Council. We also welcome Indian NRI doctors to help us in this crisis,” Mr. Ghule said.
Stating that this could serve as a model for rural and urban civic bodies across Maharashtra and the country facing a shortage of doctors, Mr. Prasad said that this was the first time that a government body had advertised to recruit doctors from Indian medical schools who were practising abroad.
Kishore Kulkarni, a member of the Zilla Parishad Employee Union, said that the administration had also utilised ₹42 lakh from the pooled funds to give hot-cooked meals worth ₹50 each to nearly one lakh senior citizens and persons with disabilities residing in villages in the district.
“One must bear in mind that all these frontline workers who have so generously contributed to help incentivise salaries of doctors to be recruited are out in the field night and day. These personnel screen lakhs of houses in rural pockets, man oxygen depots and checkposts, and ensure delivery of food to migrant workers and those from the social margins. Apart from 185 exemptions, all of whom are severe virus cases, everybody is out doing their bit,” Mr. Prasad said, hoping that their efforts would attract more doctors to come forward and lend a helping hand in combating the pandemic.