Budget series – Sector focus on Healthcare

By Meghna Misra-Elder

Considering the last few months where India, like many countries around the world, has struggled to cope with COVID strengthening the healthcare infrastructure in the country was expected to be at the heart of this budget.

In fact, the Budget proposals for 2021-22 rest on six pillars – one of them being Health and Wellbeing.

The Healthcare budget this year has been increased by 137% to strengthen healthcare infrastructure, research and establishment of hi-tech laboratories. But this figure needs to be looked at with caution as it covers healthcare holistically including nutrition, sanitation, clean drinking water and pollution control.

In total, Rs 2.23 lakh crore (GBP 22.3 billion) will be spent on the sector. Of that, Rs 64,180 crore (approximately GBP 6.4 billion) has been allocated to a new national health programme Atmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojana. The programme, which will fund developing primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare in the country over the next 6 years, will:

  • Provide support for 17,788 rural and 11,024 urban health and wellness centres;
  • Establish integrated public health labs in all the districts and setting up 3,382 public health units in 11 states;
  • Set up critical care hospital blocks in 12 central institutions and 602 districts;
  • Strengthen the National Centre for Disease Control, its 5 regional branches as well as 20 metropolitan health surveillance units;
  • Expand the Integrated Health Information Portal to all the Union Territories and States connecting all public health labs;
  • Operationalise 17 new Public Health Units. The scheme will also strengthen 33 existing Public Health Units at the Points of entry, that is at 11 seaports, 32 airports, and 7 land crossings;
  • Establish mobile hospitals and Emergency Health Operation Centres;
  • Establish a national institution for One Health, a Regional Research Platform for Southeast Asia Region of WHO, 4 regional National Institutes for Virology, and 9 Bio-Safety Level III laboratories

This will be in addition to the existing National Health Mission, a programme that strives to provide accessible, affordable and quality universal healthcare to those in need of it.

In the current FY budget, a National Commission for Allied Healthcare Professionals Bill has also been introduced to ensure transparent and efficient regulation of 56 allied healthcare professions – an area of significant importance. Beefing up the public health ecosystem is crucial as it creates a huge number of jobs in the allied healthcare sector. We recently hosted a meeting with stakeholders like the Healthcare Sector Skills Council (HSSC), Department for International Trade (DIT), Pearson, Apollo Medskills, GSK and National Skills Network to identify areas of opportunity for public, private and academic collaboration between UK and India focussing on the allied health services like digital health tech, telemedicine, geriatric services, home care to name a few.

The launch of the Aatmanirbhar Swasth Bharat Yojna and the much-needed push to set up primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare is the need of the hour and we hope that this will encourage more public and private partnership towards accelerating the provision of healthcare to all citizens.

The healthcare industry welcomed the government’s increased allocation as a step in the right direction towards providing access to healthcare for all, fueling job creation, and boosting economic growth.

At a macro level, the budget does a good job balancing the pre-existing need to strengthen India’s basic healthcare infrastructure and addressing the pandemic.  However, the success will ultimately depend on the effective implementation of the plans where the public and private sector can come together to deliver some of the initiatives jointly and continued financial and progressive regulatory support from the Government to the sector in the coming years.

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