The shortage of specialists in the country’s hospitals is expected to ease with 18 specialists graduating next month.

Of the 18, six will graduate from the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB). This is the second batch to graduate from the university after it started a Masters of Postgraduate (MP) programme in 2014. The six comprise of two pediatricians, two surgeons, an obstetrician gynecologist and a medical specialist.

The third batch of six specialists is expected to graduate in July next year. According to the human resource projections, the country will get 80 specialists in the next five years.

The 18 specialists specialised in Gynaecology, Medicine, Anesthesiology, Opthalmology, Dental, Orthopedic and general surgery, Pathology, Pediatrics, Public Health Policy and Management, and radiology.

Health minister Dechen Wangmo, during the question hour session last week at the National Council said that the deployment of 18 specialists would be prioritised in the regional referral hospitals.

Mongar’s National Council member Sonam Pelzom had questioned the government’s plans and priorities to meet the urgent need of an additional medical specialist in the regional referral hospitals.

While the health ministry’s 12th Plan targets to increase the number of specialists from 41 to 121, the targets are set to achieve during the final year of the Plan. The shortage exists in most critical areas like paediatrics, nursing, dialysis, intensive care unit, emergency services, laboratory services, and ENT among others.

The national referral hospital in Thimphu today has about 80 specialists and the regional referral hospitals have 12 each.

To fulfil the basic requirement of a referral hospital, the council member said that Mongar hospital requires at least 28 specialists.

Lyonpo said that the ministry has submitted its requirement of one medical specialist from Bangladesh to be deployed to the regional referral hospital in Mongar.

“If we are not able to get the medical specialist from Bangladesh, the ministry will be able to deploy additional medical specialist to the hospital in July 2020 since there are two residents who will graduate in June 2020,” she said.

Questions on how the government is working on addressing the shortage of specialists and providing special medical health services in the country are frequently raised in the parliament session.

The minister said that the country doesn’t have enough specialists. The government, she said, is also exploring hiring retired specialists from other countries who are interested to work in Bhutan, besides requesting the Bangladesh government for specialists.

She said that granting autonomy and merging the three-referral hospitals would allow the hospitals to distribute the service of limited specialists and ensure efficient and effective utilisation of limited resources.

Besides the shortage of specialist, the health sector is also challenged with shortage of equipment, budget constraints and huge case load at the national referral hospital, among others, which affect providing quality medical services to the people.

“If we look at our health centres, about 80 percent of them are not able to meet our own standards. Some do not have the equipment and some don’t have enough human resource,” Lyonpo said.

Dechen Tshomo