Modi opened AIIMS, Gorakhpur. But how good an idea is that?
On Friday Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation for a new premier All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) at Gorakhpur, Uttar Pradesh.
It is to be built at an estimated Rs 1,011 crore and aims to provide super-specialty health care and affordable treatment to those who until now would either have to flock to Delhi or to the partly functioning AIIMS in Rae Bareli.
But how good an idea is the new AIIMS?
The announcement on the number of AIIMS that were planned to be established gives the impression that there are hospitals across the country reaching out to patients in most states.
In 2006, the government announced taking the Centre-run educational institute-cum-hospital to Bhopal, Raipur, Bhubaneswar, Patna, Jodhpur and Rishikesh. In 2014, Mangalagiri in Andhra Pradhesh, Raiganj in West Bengal, the Vidarbha region in Maharashtra and Rae Bareli in UP were also promised the same.
In 2016, Jammu and Kashmir, Punjab, Tamil Nadu, Bihar, Himachal Pradesh and Assam were the states which wre promised an AIIMS each. In total, there are 16 promised institutes till date.
According to information provided under the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana (PMSSY), from 2009, Rs800 crore has been set aside each year in the government's annual budget to establish "AIIMS type super specialty hospitals-cum-teaching institutions and upgrading government hospitals".
But since the announcement of 10 more such institutes since then, that budget increased from 800 to Rs 2,156 crore last year. That's apart from the initital corpus fund allocated to each institute - an average Rs 150 crore each for the six AIIMS announced in 2006.
How has it performed so far
AIIMS Bhubaneswar has a very telling story. The health minister, both during the UPA term and from the present government visited the All-India Institute of Medical Sciences in Bhubaneswar every year since its inauguration four years ago. The institute, however, still struggles and is not completely operational.
In 2014, the then Union Health Minister, Harsh Vardhan, assured that construction at the premises were on full swing and was to be completed by 2015. His current counterpart JP Nadda visited a year after promising that all work would be completed by the end of 2016.
Earlier this month, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Faggan Singh Kulaste declared that it would be fully functional by the end of 2017. Even this promise seems to hold little water with local reports from the state stating that much needs to be done before the institution is fully operational.
Kulaste inaugurated the first unit of the institution that would be fully functional - the oncology ward - and promised that the central government will take all possible measures to complete the construction work. According to the government, nearly Rs 650 crore has been spent up until now but work was stalled for a year for lack of payments.
Institute Director Dr Ashok Mohapatra has retorted with the same rational of apprising the Centre of the pending works and required equipments and said doctors were not willing to join though over "Rs 50 lakh has already been spent on recruitment drives." Data from the centre, however, shows that 90% of all construction work for the hospital is complete.
Other institutes have similar stories to tell
According to data provided by the Pradhan Mantri Swasthya Suraksha Yojana, in AIIMS Rae Bareli, work on the residential complex is still under progress. While construction for the Out-patient Department (OPD) has been completed.
AIIMS Bhopal is riddled with drainage problems and cost overruns due to delay in construction. The the cost, in fact, is said to have doubled since 2009, with more than Rs 70 crore worth of equipment still underutilised.
Similar story at AIIMS Patna: the management informed of delay in construction and severe shortage of space for equipment - again, the onus lying with the central government.
Even with all this, doctors at AIIMS Patna, Rishikesh and Bhubaneswar say that hundreds flock the institute each day hoping for treatment at an affordable cost for even small injuries or burns.
Many of the institutes seems to have a human resource crunch. The recruitment drive at Bhubaneswar and Raipur have all received minimal response with not even half the required staff employed in various departments.
On an average, in six centres - Patna, Raipur, Bhubaneswar, Bhopal, Jodhpur and Rishikesh - there is a shortfall of 250 personnel.
A panel of lawyers designated with the task of reviewing these institutes pointed out indifference from the central health department in trying to address the concern of staff crunch. In various centres, the selections, after the rigorous process of interviews, are awaiting ratification.
The lawyers also talked of logistical problems and lack of space for even equipment.
Lack of special treatment centres
The six partially functioning institutes announced in 2006, all lack super specialty departments for the treatment of kidney, heart and the central nervous system. AIIMS Patna and AIIMS Raipur while the The Patna campus does not even have a labour room or an emergency service centres.
According to some critics, the six institutes will take at least a decade to come on to their own after starting to function in entirety.