When Suresh Ramu set up a Covid care facility in Bengaluru during the ravages of India’s devastating second wave, his biggest hurdle was staffing. Ramu, chief executive officer (CEO) of the 150-bed Cytecare Cancer Hospital in Bengaluru, needed a total of 55 doctors and nurses to staff the 125-bed step-down hospital step-down hospital Step Down Unit Step Down Units provide an intermediate level of care between the Intensive Care Units and the general medical-surgical wards . The bigger challenge, though, was finding support staff—allied healthcare professionals (AHPs)—to perform the thankless, even invisible, tasks that keep a hospital ticking along.

All told, Ramu needed 67 AHPs across a variety of functions. These ranged from tasks as basic as housekeeping, food service, and security to coordinating day-to-day operations, handling the centre’s 24-hour helpline, and digital data entry. With the country’s healthcare workforce already stretched to its limits, finding takers for these high-risk, relatively low-reward positions was never going to be easy.

The hunt for AHPs wasn’t unique to Ramu. Across the length and breadth of the country, AHPs—including phlebotomists phlebotomists Phlebotomist Phlebotomists are trained to puncture in a vein, usually in the arm, with a cannula for the purpose of drawing blood , lab technicians, and home health aides—found themselves in high demand. In 2012, the National Skill Development Corporation estimated estimated National Skill Development Corporation Human Resource and Skill Requirement in the Healthcare Sector Read more  a market demand of 2.3 million AHPs. The current supply of AHPs is estimated estimated Indian Express Why government’s recognition of allied healthcare professionals is a paradigm shift Read more to be between 800,000-900,000, according to the health ministry.

With such scarcity, the salary for some roles doubled or tripled over April and the first two weeks of May, Srinivasa Rao told The Ken. Rao is the CEO of Apollo Medskills, a 40-centre-strong training school for AHPs. Before the pandemic, the monthly salary for the majority of AHP jobs varied from Rs 10,000-15,000 ($137-206)—the minimum wage set by the states. However, as desperate times called for desperate measures, some AHPs have earned as much as Rs 50,000 ($689) a month.

Medskills also found itself scrambling to keep pace with the unprecedented demand. Rao said the institute developed expedited courses—as short as 90 hours—to train AHPs to service the current crisis. 

AUTHOR

Ruhi Kandhari

Ruhi writes on the impact of healthcare policies, trends in the healthcare sector and developments on the implementation of Electronic Health Records in India. She has an M. Sc. in Development Studies from the London School of Economics.

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