The decision of the J&K Government to outsource maintenance of healthcare equipment in State hospitals has drawn flak as the authorities have failed to recruit qualified biomedical engineers for the job.
The government, through JK Medical Supplies Corporation Limited, which is in news for supply of spurious drugs to hospital, issued tenders for outsourcing maintenance of bio-medical equipments. As per the tender the (No JKMSCL/Biomedical Equipment Maintenance /JKMSCL /Tend/SPEM/ 04/2016 dated 17-12-2016) the government mulls to hire the service at a cost of Rs five crore for maintenance of all hospital across the state.
What has raised eyebrows over the move is that the financial implication of hiring full-time and in-house biomedical engineers for all the hospitals was three times cheaper than the cost of outsourcing the services annually.
As per sources in Health Department, the annual cost of hiring 80 engineers and technicians for the entire J&K hospitals came to around Rs 1.6 crore.
"We fail to understand what prompted the authorities concerned to outsource the service at alarming cost when they could have get full time and in-house engineers at far lesser financial implications," said an official privy to the development. The official said the state would have required just 40 bio-medical engineers for maintenance of the equipments.
In 2011, the government had mooted a proposal for hiring biomedical engineers to work at state hospitals and have their round the clock presence considering the huge investments that were being made into purchasing the state-of-art diagnostic and other equipment.
In the wake of the fresh move, the proposal, which was circulated for feedback to all tertiary care hospital heads and heads of health services of both Jammu and Kashmir division, seems to have been shunted by the authorities despite the fact that all hospital heads had communicated to the government the dire necessity of having in house manpower for round-the-clock services.
"All the heads of hospitals and health institutes including principals and directors had pressed for hiring the engineers permanently and stationing them at hospitals," a senior administrative official said.
One such communication in possession of Greater Kashmir reads that most of the equipment were "electronic and computerized …there is a need for specially trained engineers and technicians to maintain these equipments…the need is urgent as many of the equipments are lying idle for want of minor repairs or even calibration."
The official while expressing concern over the move of outsourcing maintenance of hospital equipment argued that such services were part of "essential service" domain and one could not wait for a service provider in case of emergency.
"When a ventilator or simple ultra sound equipment develops a snag, will we wait till a service engineers arrive from somewhere? These are hospitals that have hundreds of patients being catered to each day on every single equipment," a doctor at a diagnostic lab at SMHS Hospital said.
According to him under the set procedure the companies which provide the equipment were bound to take care of maintenance of service for five years from the date of purchase of machinery.
In 2016, the Comptroller and Auditor General Report 2016 had pointed out that much of the equipment in hospitals was not being utilized for various reasons, lack of technical staff being one of them. "(Equipment) had not been installed or put to use by the end-user Health institutions due to non-availability of infrastructure, trained manpower or other accessories…" the Report stated. The report had recommended that "the Department (health) should consider ensuring … optimum utilization of equipment".
However, health authorities have time and again written to government about the long delays in servicing of defunct/defective equipment and non-adherence of suppliers to the service agreements.