The govt. is also looking into opening a medical college

Dechen Tshomo

All 23 grade I Basic Health Units (BHU I), which will henceforth be called 10-bed hospital, will have a doctor each soon.

The health ministry will hire six general duty medical officers (GDMO) available in the market on contract and place them in the health facilities based on the priorities and where their requirement is necessary.

During the question hour session of the National Assembly yesterday, Health Minister Dechen Wangmo said that BHU I in Gasa, Panbang, and Dorokha, which according to the health ministry’s record do not have a doctor, will have a doctor soon.

The minister was responding to Panbang’s Member of Parliament (MP) Dorji Wangdi’s question on the ministry’s plans to resolve the issue of some of the BHU Is not having a doctor.

Dorji Wangdi said several BHU Is were either without a doctor or the facility with doctors frequently faced erratic service of doctors as the doctors were out of the station most of the time attending training for weeks, affecting health services to the public.

Futther, he said that all BHU Is were located far from the dzongkhag headquarters. “I called the officials at all the 23 BHU Is and found that seven BHU Is – Dagana, Gasa, Dorokha, Khaling, Tsangpo, Panbang, and Khatikha do not have a doctor.”

He added that doctors in about 50 percent of the BHU Is were not available at the facility most of the time. “This is a big issue that is known to everyone.”

Lyonpo said that according to the records with the health ministry, the BHU I in Gasa and Dorokha did not have doctor for the last four months and Panbang BHU I was without doctor for seven months.

Such shortages, she said, were unavoidable because the country currently had only 337 GDMOs.

WHO recommends doctor-population ratio to be 1:1000, meaning 1,000 people should have a doctor. Going by this, Bhutan requires about 700 GDMOs.

“We have been managing temporary posting in the cases where the doctors are on short term training,” Lyonpo said.

Acknowledging that some of the doctors are attending training, Lyonpo said the training was important to upgrade their skills. “It should be understood that it takes at least five years for MBBS student to graduate and become a doctor.”

To become a specialist and subspecialist, it takes another four years or more, she added.

Lyonpo said that by the end of the 12th Plan the country would have107 more GDMOs. “The shortage of doctors and specialist in the country is also one of our biggest concerns.”

During the Prime Minister’s visit to Bangladesh in April last year, human resource development was one of the priorities. Lyonpo said the Prime Minister requested the Bangladesh government to increase the slots of MBBS to Bhutanese students and accordingly five slots were increased, taking the total to 15.

“We are also requesting the governments of Sri Lanka, India, and Nepal to increase MBBS slots to Bhutanese students,” Lyonpo said. “If we are going to send only about 20 to 30 students for MBBS every year, we won’t be able to address the shortage. We have also been sending only one to two doctors for specialisation.”

Lyonpo said that there was a need to send more students to pursue MBBS and that the priorities were set. “Everyone knows that there is a shortage of doctors and specialists in the country. Despite that, nothing much has been done to increase the slots for MBBS and address the issue.”

The number of seats for the resident courses at the KGUMBS was also increased from last year, Lyonpo added. “It is not possible to produce doctors immediately after planning.”

The ministry has plans for mass specialisation where doctors would be sent for specialisation and sub-specialisation to address the shortage. The government is also exploring to open a medical college in the country.

Dorji Wangdi said that some health facility had three doctors but none were at the station. “This is not because they went for short term training. Some are doing their postgraduate at KGUMSB, a few are in Australia.”

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering said the issue of shortage of doctors and specialists was always there. “If we are having a shortage now then this is because of the poor planning about five to six years ago.”

When there are more people who are pursuing resident or postgraduate programmes then the number of GDMOs in the health facilities would naturally drop, Lyonchhen said. “And for once at least this has to be considered. After five to six years, we will fully address the issue of shortage of doctors and specialists in the country.”