Human resource loss in the health sector, one of the highest, is a cause for concern.

With the expansion of health services and the establishment of specialised health centres in the country, the demand for health professionals will only grow.

According to the human resource development (HRD) plan of the health ministry, Bhutan will need 1,595 nurses and 195 General Duty Medical Officers (GDMO) by 2026. In other words, to achieve minimum desired level of health professionals to population ratio, Bhutan should be at least 3,107 nurses for the 52 hospitals by 2026.

Currently, we have 1,512 nurses – 336 in the eastern, 320 in the central, and 856 in the western regions – working in 45 hospitals across the country. And, the health ministry’s intake for this year was only 54 nurses, 24 health assistants, and 72 technicians.

But the concern is that the rate of health professionals leaving the country to work abroad is alarmingly high. There is a huge gap which will only grow if the human resource loss in the sector continues at the same rate.  Currently, JDWNRH has a nurse-bed ratio of 1:6 while the internationally accepted standard of nurse-bed ratio is about 1:3 in teaching hospitals and 1:5 in general hospitals.

As a short-term measure, the ministry has decided to recruit health professionals without the need to clear civil service exams. While this measure might address the problem of shortage of human resource in the ministry and health centres, there is a need for a more durable and long-term solution.

According to the global sustainable development goal index threshold for universal health coverage, the minimum need of 4.5 doctors, nurses, and midwives per 1,000 population.

An official from the ministry said: “While it is an individual’s right to choose where to work in the end, our system also needs workers depending on the situation. If there are service expansion and establishment of additional centres, we have to plan accordingly.”

With the change in the country’s healthcare system, trends of disease patterns, service delivery approaches, Bhutan will face a rising demand for nurses and other professionals.

While it is difficult to stop professionals from leaving the system, what we need is a strong and attractive human resource development plan to address the gap. Repercussions will be far-reaching.