The Union Health Ministry has identified thousands of new cancer patients, but is unable to treat them. Reason: Its own departments are not coordinating among themselves, and the patients are left high and dry.
On February 21, the Ministry released startling statistics that it had identified 37,768 new cancer cases — 13,747 of oral cancer, 12,098 cases of breast cancer and 11,923 of cervicalcancer. These new cases were detected while screening 1.3 crore men and women aged over 30 in newly-established health and wellness centres (HWCs) across India.
No data sharing
Data of the new patients has not been shared by the National Health Mission that runs the HWCs with the National Health Authority (NHA), which is in charge of implementing the Pradhan Mantri Jan Arogya Yojana (PM-JAY) popularly known as Ayushman Bharat.
Officials told BusinessLine that ideally data of the cancer patients should be submitted to the NHA to facilitate their admission under Ayushman Bharat, which provides beneficiaries cashless health insurance of up to ₹5 lakh at empanelled public and private hospitals.
In the absence of a smooth referral system, patients have been left to seek treatment. Many have had to run from pillar to post seeking respite. According to a recently released National Health Account Estimate, close to 60 per cent of all health expenditure is borne by patients. PM-JAY and HWCs were designed to keep such expenditure in check. But the lack of integration of health systems fails the purpose.
Additional Secretary (Health) Manoj Jhalani said, “Some of the patients who have been screened will be landing up in PM-JAY. But, as of date, there is no IT (information technology) system for tracking patients screened at HWCs. We have no information at this stage to give to the NHA for their possible treatment under PM-JAY.”
Jhalani said the Satyanarayana Committee was looking into processes to integrate the IT platforms of HWCs to PM-JAY. However, officials said that this may take some more years. “Something needs to be done before that. The committee may take three-four years to submit its report. We need to act quickly to help patients already screened and identified as cancer positive,” said Indu Bhushan, CEO, PM-JAY.
On January 25, Bhushan had written to Preeti Sudan, Secretary (Health) — marking copies to the Prime Minister’s Office and NITI Aayog — to ensure there is good co-ordination between tertiary hospitals under PM-JAY and the HWCs which are a person’s first point of care. BusinessLine has viewed the letter.
In the letter, Bhushan states that the process of registering patients at both levels should be common to facilitate better care. “HWCs are requested to create appropriate follow-up processes to ensure that patients can get best Continuum of Care,” states the letter.
Govt’s help sought
Two-and-half-months on, the Ministry is yet to respond to Bhushan. “We, at the NHA, can help the Ministry integrate HWCs with PM-JAY and we need not wait for the committee’s report for the integrating process currently.
“We need to have a more serious chat with the Ministry regarding this,” Bhushan said.