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Seeking an antidote for Bhutan's acute shortage of doctors

Bhutan has all kinds of shortages, from teachers to architects, engineers to IT experts.



Lately, however, it is the shortage of doctors and, more precisely, an acute shortage of surgeons that is becoming a major problem, especially given a rising backlog of patients' cases.

Patients from various parts of the country drive long distances to the country's main hospital in Thimphu, often only to find themselves languishing on long waiting lists.

The general observation among patients visiting the hospital is that, while they still get care, the process is often long and slow and is getting more difficult by the day.

While life expectancy has improved considerably, as the country continues to fast-track towards development, the size of the pool of doctors has not kept pace with the pressure of a population that is growing day by day.

Neither has the newly built 350-bed main hospital, which is almost always fully occupied, with a deluge of patients being referred every day for some disease or the other from across the country.

The steady and increasing flow of emergency cases for surgeons and doctors alike don't help the situation. The country is becoming increasingly addicted to cars and alcohol which, in combination, make a dangerous cocktail whose consequences have to be dealt with in emergency wards.

Other patients awaiting surgery are often pushed further down an already lengthy waiting list by emergency cases.

The shortage of physicians is almost inevitable, as the population continues to burgeon, as the number of specialist doctors stagnates.

With no solution in sight to the shortage of doctor and surgeons, medical practitioners have offered their two cents on the issue.

Many suggest building a city hospital to cater for patients needing routine check-ups, while the referral hospital can be kept solely for more serious patients and manned by specialists.

Another suggestion worth considering is extending out-of-hour clinic services for paying patient, thereby providing more access to doctors and specialists.

The same after-hours service could be applied to surgery, benefiting both those patients who can afford to pay and - by shortening their waiting lists - those who remain reliant on state-subsidised medical care.

In this way, equipment and facilities that remain under-utilised could be optimised, and doctors could hone their skills in the process.


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