Despite the state government's two-year-old announcement that health sector vacancies would be filled up on a fast-track basis, thousands of posts of doctors and paramedics are lying vacant in state's healthcare institutions, hitting the patient-care very badly.
With such a severe dearth of manpower in the critical sector, the only support as of now is the centrally-funded National Health Mission (NHM) employees whose engagement is purely contractual in nature. The trained NHM employees, now considered to be a backbone of state's healthcare sector, have been demanding permanent or substantial jobs and have hit the streets of Srinagar to "fight for their rights."
In early 2015, officials said, the state government announced that vacancies in J&K's Health department would be filled up on a fast-track basis. But, they said, the announcement hasn't been translated into a reality on ground.
Presently, 7000 people are employed with the National Health Mission in J&K, as per its officials. Of these, over 1000 are doctors.
"As per the NHM rules, human resource is engaged on contract basis in all states to provide a support service for implementation of various health schemes," an official said.
Last week, the NHM employees went on a three-day strike to protest continuation of their "contractual nature" of engagement and demanded regularization of their services. While protest rallies were seen across Kashmir, the pleas of the protesters found no takers. The strike has been consequently extended twice since.
Mission Director NHM, Dr Mohan Singh said though he would have "loved to help" the employees, "there is no provision under NHM to hire staff on permanent basis."
"I have tried to get all emoluments possible for the human resource we have in the state. Recently, we got health insurance cover (for them) too. But this is all that is within my capacity," he said.
He said the NHM had already written to Government of India seeking regularization of its employees, but the proposal was turned down. "The Union Ministry of Health categorically stated that NHM recruitment rules would remain uniform for all states and J&K can't be an exception," he said.
He said the striking employees are seeking something that is "impossible". "NHM is not a department, just a Mission," he said.
Officials in Health Department said most of the permanent vacancies stand referred to various recruiting agencies and would be filled "in due course of time".
"Government has in the past promised fast-track recruitment of health sector staff but not much could materialize last year. However we are hopeful that this year we might see a considerable progress in this regard," a senior Health department official said.
He said though there was scope for employment in health sector for some categories of NHM employees, the nature of health services and NHM were different and demanded a different set of skills and qualifications.
"Not every NHM employee has the qualifications required for the posts vacant in health sector," he said.
As per information revealed by state government in January this year, 3750 posts of paramedics are lying vacant in the Health department.
Earlier, the government submitted in the State High Court—in a Public Interest Litigation—that 3604 posts of paramedics are lying vacant in J&K. Of these, 1623 vacancies are in Jammu division and 1262 in Kashmir, it was stated.
It was also acknowledged before the court that as many as 375 posts of Class IV employees are lying vacant in the health sector.
In addition to the posts in non-gazetted sector, the government, in June 2016 stated in State Assembly that 401 posts of doctors are vacant in J&K Health Services. Of these 122 vacancies were open in Health Services Kashmir, while in Health Services Jammu, 279 vacancies of doctors existed.
Simultaneously, 14 posts of lecturer (entry level faculty) are vacant in GMC Srinagar, as per information submitted by government in reply to a question in the State Assembly.
In January 2017, Minister of Health and Medical Education said 1653 posts of doctors are vacant in the Health department.