Just 400 doctors of the selected 921 sign up for rural health services

The innovative approach of J&K government to fill 1000 posts of medical officers and redress doctor shortage in rural areas has failed, as only 400 medical officers of the selected 921 have joined their places of posting. The rest preferred not to join rural services.

In November 2018, State government announced that 1000 posts of medical officers in health and family welfare department would be filled in one month. Major changes were made in the recruitment process to expedite the pace and resultantly, written test – replacing interviews – was concluded in record time. Although 921 medical officers were appointed in January this year, till date not even half of these doctors have joined places of posting.

As per a source in health department, less than 400 of the selected 921 doctors have joined at their respective places of posting. He said the low joining percentage reflected lack of interest in these jobs. Consequently, Govt cancelled appointment of 437 selectees recently.

The prime reason for disinterest in serving in rural areas, an official in health and medical education department was Government’s failure to incentivise rural service. “Instead of giving perks and monetary benefits for rural and difficult area service, we extended controversial SRO 202 to doctors this time,” the official said.

This SRO does not allow dearness allowances, increments and other emoluments during the period of probation. During the probation period, the selectees are paid fixed “minimum of scale pay” applicable to the post. The appointees under SRO 202 cannot be transferred either. The SRO had never been implemented in case of a gazette post before, and many aspirants, when Government decided to bring the medical officer posts under its ambit, termed the decision a “measure to punish” doctors who choose to serve in an under-served area.

In addition, the lack of basic living amenities in health centers across peripheral areas is also proving a dampener for aspirants. As per rural health statistics report, less than 50 percent of community health centers (CHC) and sub-district hospitals (SDH) in J&K, had living quarters for doctors. At primary health center level, the situation was even worse. In addition, at least one in four of primary health centers in the State have neither water supply, nor electricity. In most health centers in peripheral areas, there is not even a toilet for staff, as per this damning report published in 2018.

Commissioner secretary health and medical education Atal Dulloo acknowledged that SRO 202 was “a new thing” but said that the terms and conditions had been laid down in advertisement. He said that lack of basic amenities was an issue but “not the cause” for selectees not joining. “Most of those who did not join were engaged elsewhere and thus could not join as we did not allow that,” he said.