Mumbai: As Covid-19 cases continue to surge in Mumbai’s satellite towns such as Navi Mumbai and Thane, an all-out war of sorts has emerged between various municipal bodies to acquire doctors and other healthcare workers.
There is a massive staff crunch in several of these regions, and in its desperation to hire more doctors, the Mumbai Metropolitan Region (MMR) corporations are offering ‘competitive salaries’ — one higher than the other to fill the vacant posts.
For instance, while the BAMS (Bachelor of Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery) doctors were earlier paid between Rs 50,000 and Rs 60,000, the new recruits are being given Rs 90,000 per month in Navi Mumbai.
In Kalyan-Dombivali, these doctors are being lured with a salary of up to Rs 1.3 lakh per month, ThePrint has learnt.
Also, MBBS doctors who earned Rs 70,000 are now being given Rs 1.3 lakh and intensivists (specialised doctors) who earned Rs 1.5 lakh before the pandemic are being offered Rs 2.5 lakh in Thane, which has recorded the highest number of Covid cases across the MMR.
Not only doctors, other healthcare workers are also being offered hiked salaries to meet the rising demand.
Nurses who earned Rs 10,000-15,000 a month are now being offered twice the salary in the Kalyan-Dombivali and Ulahsnagar areas.
“There indeed is a competition, but it is more out of desperation, keeping in mind the increase in Covid cases,” a senior official from the Kalyan-Dombivali Municipal Corporation (KDMC) told ThePrint.
The region, which has 13,832 cases of coronavirus (as of 11 July), has been recording over 640 cases in a single day for the past four days — the highest single-day spike across the region.
With a population of 18 lakh, the area has only one Covid-dedicated government hospital with only eight doctors and 18 nurses.
“One corporation is offering more than the other to attract doctors and healthcare staff because of such shortage. There are limited doctors, medical staff, but there are so many areas that are facing a crunch at this time, especially in the suburbs, where the number of Covid cases are on the rise,” the official added.
This shortage has also led to corporations competing with each other to lure doctors and other healthcare workers.
A recruitment drive, in which KDMC hired 119 nurses, 35 doctors, 90 ward boys and two medical officers, turned out to be a failure when 75 per cent of them left after receiving a “better offer”.
“We were again left with no staff as most of them left for another corporation that suited them better. The money was more and it was less challenging than this area, where the load is tremendous and there is no staff,” the official said.
“We then had to increase the salaries even more and now we are paying even more than what hospitals of Bombay Municipal Corporation are paying,” he added.
The KDMC has sanctioned posts of 115 doctors, but has only 42 doctors.
A similar problem is also being faced in Thane. The region has recorded 14,292 cases till now, the highest across MMR, and is seeing a spike of over 450 cases daily.
“We are doing whatever is required to recruit. We are paying competitive salaries and the recruitment drives are on, on a daily basis,” said Sandeep Malvi, Deputy Commissioner of Thane Municipal Corporation.
While most of these corporations are calling for applications, Navi Mumbai has started walk-in interviews to expedite the process.
“We recently did a drive to recruit 1,000 health staff, doctors, paramedics and recruited only 300 of them. More tenders have been floated and the process is on. We need to recruit 1,500 more people,” a senior Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation official said.
Medical students, AYUSH doctors hired to meet shortage
This need for recruiting doctors and healthcare staff was realised only after the number of Covid cases suddenly began rising in the suburbs.
According to a senior health official, while some drives to recruit doctors and medical staff were conducted by various corporations, it was never a pressing concern.
“It is only after this crisis began that the need for healthcare staff was realised. It was then realised that most of these suburbs do not have adequate health infrastructure and staff. That is when the state stepped up and ensured that infrastructure is readied in time. Moreover, many private players, medical associations were brought on board to fight this together. However, despite these efforts, there is a crunch,” the official said.
And the shortage of medical staff was so severe, that even 20-year-old medical students, who were still in the second and third year of their degree were assigned duties in the Covid ward.
“A total of 28,000 doctors were required towards the end of April in the entire Mumbai suburb, but none of the corporations had staff. So, all the interns, resident doctors, MBBS students who had no experience in clinical duties were called and given duties,” Dr Avinash Bhondwe, president of the Indian Medical Association, Maharashtra, told ThePrint.
He noted that this shortage forced several hospitals to hire AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy) doctors.
“It is then we suggested that they bring in non-Allopathic, AYUSH doctors on board, as they at least can help in taking care of patients with mild symptoms. We then suggested that one course for Covid management for these doctors be conducted and they then be given certificates and appointed for Covid duties wherever there is a crunch,” added Bhondew, who is also a member of the UNESCO Chair For Bioethics.
Moreover, in order to run the new Covid care centres that came up in most corporations, authorities have also now started outsourcing work to agencies.
“These agencies get their own staff. We just provide the infrastructure which includes the beds, oxygen beds, PPE kits and other things. Getting trained staff is the responsibility of the agencies and this model seems to be working well,” KDMC Commissioner Vinay Suryawanshi told ThePrint.
Old recruits being paid old salaries
Amid this rush of recruitments, there are many existing healthcare staff and doctors who have been working almost 20 hours a day, but are being paid their old salaries.
“The nurses are working 20 hours a day and are being paid Rs 10,000. But the new recruits are given Rs 30,000. Same with paramedics. The new ones are being given Rs 25,000, while the old ones are still at Rs 10,000, for the same amount of work,” a senior doctor from Kalyan-Dombivali region told ThePrint.
“Although no one is protesting, it does lower their morale as they are not working any less. In fact, they have been more overburdened as they were managing everything all by themselves. The government should think of revising their salaries as well,” she added.
When ThePrint contacted the health department, a senior official, who did not wish to be named, said, “This is not the time for a war. This is a crisis which needs to be fought together.”