India’s Health Ministry has proposed to convert 75 district hospitals into medical colleges in the third phase of a scheme which aims at boosting availability of human resource for the health sector.

The proposal is a part of the centrally sponsored scheme for “establishment of new medical colleges by upgrading district or referral hospitals” preferably in underserved districts of the country.

In the first phase, 58 district hospitals had received government approval for conversion into medical colleges while 24 hospitals were selected for the second phase. Out of all these hospitals, 39 are fully functional while the remainder are still under construction.

Under the scheme, the states put in a proposal earmarking hospitals in under-served districts to be converted into medical colleges keeping the criteria in mind that the district should have no other private or government medical college.

“The scheme aims at meeting the shortfall of human resource in the health sector. Medical colleges are unevenly spread across urban and rural areas of the country presenting wide disparities in the quality of education. The shortfall of human resource in health has resulted in skewing the distribution of health workers such that vulnerable populations in rural, tribal and hilly areas continue to be extremely underserved”, a senior health ministry official said.

The scheme will serve to create additional 10,000 MBBS and 8,000 PG seats in the country, bridge the gap in number of seats available in government and private sector. It will hopefully also address the issue of medical worker and facility shortages in India by increasing the number of seats and to achieve the desired doctor- population ratio.

Based on registration from professional councils, the availability of doctors in India is at 1 per population of 1953. This is considered woefully inadequate by the World Health Organisation (WHO), whose recommended norm is 1 doctor per 1000 population.

Further, to meet the requirements of Universal Health Coverage (UHC) there is need for improvement in the country’s present doctor population ratio from 0.5 per 1000 persons to one doctor per 1000 persons by the end of the year 2027.

The scheme also makes mention of the fact that India has one of the largest number of medical colleges in the world at 422, with an annual production of over 57, 000 doctors and 25, 000 specialists.

Despite this, India’s average annual output of graduates per medical college is much less as compared to 149 in Western Europe, 220 in Eastern Europe and 930 in China.

Additionally, the number of privately owned medical colleges have increased exponentially in India. Unfortunately, many poor students will not be able to afford the tuition costs of such colleges.

“Hence, by opening new government medical colleges by attaching existing district/referral hospitals on one hand and liberalising some MCI norms on the other, a substantial number of MBBS seats can be increased thereby making affordable medical education available in the country and mitigating shortage of doctors with respect to the population and distribution of the human resources across the country”, the scheme states.