National tele mental health programme welcome step especially in view of long COVID: Experts

01:43 PM Feb 02, 2022 | PTI |

Healthcare experts have welcomed the Centre’s announcement of a National Tele Mental Health Programme, especially in view of the long COVID, but highlighted that the Union Budget did not give adequate attention to other critical issues such as incentives for health insurance and skill development.


Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while presenting the Budget-2022-23, said the programme will be launched to improve access to quality mental health counselling and care services which will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities. Dr Girdhar Gyani, Director General, Association of Healthcare Providers (India), said the government’s intent of focusing on setting up 23-mental health centres will be beneficial in general and more specifically for long COVID patients.

”The expenditure on the health sector is pegged at Rs 86,606 crores compared to around 74,000 crores in the current fiscal year, which is a marginal increase but coupled with the overall increase in capital expenditure, it is hoped that the healthcare sector will get a boost. ”Provision of Rs 1 lakh crore interest-free loan to states will also have a positive impact on spending on healthcare infrastructure by states,” he said.

Dr. N K Pandey, Chairman and Managing Director, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences, said the cases of depression and anxiety disorders witnessed an increase of about 25 percent globally, and by 35 percent in India alone. ”It is encouraging to note the government’s attention to addressing the challenge of rising mental health issues in India and proposed to launch a National Tele Mental Health Programme. ”The budget, inculcating the fact that focusing on mental and emotional wellness is the need of the hour, itself talks about how progressive we are becoming in our approach as a nation, Pandey said. Dr. Archana Dhawan Bajaj, Gynaecologists, Obstetrician and IVF Expert, Nurture IVF Centre, said though the government focused on encouraging digital health and mental health domains, other critical issues such as incentives for health insurance, skill development, and tax benefits to the private sector did not get adequate attention.

Tax incentives are required to give an impetus to private sector investments. If the government strongly believes in the ‘Barbell Strategy’ and ‘Agile’ framework, as highlighted in Economic Survey 2021-22, the healthcare sector would expect a booster dose, Bajaj said. Dr. Mona Duggal, Associate Professor (Community) at Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research (PGIMER), Chandigarh said the National Tele Mental health programme will give the required boost to the framework of telemedicine services and virtual clinics.


”National Digital Health Mission Registries on health personnel will help provide an assessment of the skilled workforce in different regions. These are baby-steps but as a robust database comes into force, it will have a long term impact on the strengthening of health systems and equity,” she said Gracy Andrew, Vice President CorStone(India), said it is important to recognise that promotive mental health programmes that focus on building resilience skills should be implemented hand-in-hand with counselling services in schools, institutions, and communities if we really want to see the impact. The Population Foundation of India, in a statement, said the last year’s budget signalled the importance of health and well-being by terming it as the first of six pillars which focussed on strengthening three key areas, namely preventive, curative and overall well-being.

”However, a similar prioritisation of health is missing in this year’s budget, especially as we are in the midst of a third wave of the pandemic,” the PFI said. Mini Varghese, Country Director, Nutrition International, India, said even though the increase in the budget outlay for the National Health Mission has been only 8.16 percent, from Rs 34,947 crore (2021-22 RE) to Rs 37,800 crore (2022-23 BE), for this and past allocations to be effective, a strengthened implementation is needed by creating an enabling environment.

”Emphasis needs to be on adequate staffing, building capacities of our frontline functionaries, strengthening policies, developing adequate infrastructure, joint working of departments at every level, and improving access to healthcare and nutrition services,” she said. ”Further, as we look at the Budget 2022-23, there is still scope for more considering our budget for health and nutrition as it is still much less than 5 percent of GDP, as suggested by WHO for the middle-income countries, ” she said. The health sector has been allocated Rs 86,200.65 crore in the Union Budget, a hike of 16 percent over Rs 73,931 crore in 2021-22, with the government also announcing the National Tele Mental Health Programme and roll out of an open platform for the National Digital Health Ecosystem.

Out of Rs 86,200.65 crore, Rs 83,000 crore have been allocated to the Department of Health and Family Welfare while Rs 3200 crore have been allocated to the Department of Health Research.


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