J&K's health sector: Merit, not mediocrity is way forward

The health and medical education (H&ME) department recently embarked on one of the biggest recruitment drives for paramedics and technical staff for upcoming five medical colleges in Jammu and Kashmir. However, when J&K Service Selection Board (SSB) issued the advertisement for the 1235 advertised posts – 247 in each medical college – most aspirants and field experts were left baffled. Instead of updating the eligibility criteria, the department took refuge in archaic recruitment guidelines.

An official in the department said that no recruitment rules had been framed for non-gazetted staff at the new medical colleges. And therefore, in absence of the rules, the officials at helm of affairs had resorted to “some archaic procedures” to guide this recruitment process. This “questionable” process was followed ignoring recruitment rules for non-gazetted posts, both technical and non-technical, followed by the Government Medical Colleges of the state.

Sample this: For the posts of technician and technical assistant in various departments such as medicine, pediatrics, anatomy, biochemistry, forensics and others, candidates with Science at 10+2 with one-year diploma in medical lab technology is eligible while a candidate with three years BSC in medical lab technology and higher qualification is ineligible. Interestingly, in the GMC Srinagar, the eligibility for these posts is BSc in medical lab technology from a recognized institute.

This is not the lone case. For the posts of theatre assistants, the advertisement invited applications from candidates with diploma in theatre assistant course from a recognized institute, thus rendering hundreds of aspirants with graduation in theatre assistance ineligible. Again, at the GMC Srinagar, the eligibility criterion for theatre assistant is BSc in operation theatre technology from a recognized institute.

Similarly, in radiography, those with degrees in the relevant field are ineligible, while the general practice, across reputed hospital of India is that people with a degree in radiography are employed for such key positions. For junior grade nurses, the department has kept the eligibility as B Sc nursing while for senior level posts of matron/head nurse those with diploma are also eligible.

However, it is not just the recruitment in these new medical colleges that is marred by mismatch of available qualifications and framed requirements. For the posts of pharmacists across health sector in J&K, the eligibility criteria is diploma in pharma sciences, while hundreds of graduates and post graduates in pharmaceutical sciences produced by University of Kashmir are ineligible.

A senior faculty member at GMC Srinagar said that it would be in the interest of patient care to employ the “best hands” for the paramedical, nursing and technical posts. “Today, medical technology has advanced a great deal and every year, it progresses by leaps and bounds,” the faculty member said while underlining the necessity of employing highly qualified or training those already employed in running the state-of-art machinery and equipment procured by health department.

Another faculty member of a non-clinical department at SKIMS said that most of the paramedical institutes in J&K and outside were offering degree courses in lab technology, ECG technology, X Ray technology, theatre assistance, and other related fields. He alleged that the government was “promoting mediocrity” by keeping the qualified candidates out of the cardinal posts in health sector.

“If you have procured grand equipment for you laboratory, would you prefer to hire a person with more academic background in the relevant field or somebody who has less years to his name,” he asked. “It looks like our system does not accept skills and experience but has stuck on to age-old criteria and rules”.

The commissioner/secretary health and medical education Atal Dulloo acknowledged that “issues” existed in the recruitment rules for paramedical, technical and other fields. But no steps are being taken to address this grossly inefficient and irrelevant practice. “Consequently, the new medical colleges are set to be founded on shoulders of less qualified staff while those qualified have been left out unemployed, distraught,” said a senior GMC doctor.