Budget constraints lead to scarcity of life-saving drugs for cancer and heart diseases at clinics for ex-servicemen.
The Ex-Servicemen Contributory Health Scheme (ECHS), which supports 5 million veterans and their families, face grievous shortage of medicine, especially life-saving drugs required for treating cancer and heart ailments. The shortage of medicine gets worse in polyclinics that are not located near Military Base hospitals.
Why are Veterans Facing Shortage of Life-Saving Medicines?
This dire situation is stemming due to the limited vote-on-account budget, which restricts the ECHS from spending over 33% of its full budget for a financial year. While the ECHS is allotted between Rs 3,000 crore to Rs 4,000 crore on average every year, the vote-on-account budget, however, is first spent on committed liabilities, like payments for previous supply orders, which leave insufficient funds for the present requirements of medicine. Shortage of funds has also impeded fresh orders of medicines for defence services.
According to sources, “The vote-on-account budget is not adequate to meet the committed liabilities of the previous years such as medicine orders and even the requirement of medicines for the first three months of the financial year or until the full budget is passed. So, there is a gap in the supply.”
Polyclinics away from Base Military Camps have it worse
The shortage of medicines gets worse in polyclinics not located near base camps. The military hospitals across India procure the medicines under supply chains, and then supply them to the ECHS polyclinics. These supply the medicines to ex-servicemen. However, due to the budget constraints, the polyclinics have a monthly expenditure limit, ranging from Rs 1.5 lakhs to 2.5 lakh, which is insufficient for procuring medicine from the ‘Authorised Local Chemist’ (ALCs).
The polyclinics located further away from the military hospitals have it worse as procuring medicines gets even more difficult. According to the reports, several times the ALCs do not have the required drugs.
Currently, Uttarakhand is facing a shortage of medicines for Hepatitis B, cancer and arthritis in most of their polyclinics.
Lengthy Procurement Process Adding to the Problem
The lengthy procurement process for medicines is also another reason for the shortage. The conditions on empanelled chemists require heavy paperwork. Their reimbursement for the medicines supplied also takes time.
However, a scheme was started wherein ex-servicemen could procure medicines and be reimbursed for them if they were not available with the ALCs and local military hospitals. But veterans claim that the reimbursement process is long and the medicines can be very expensive. For example, a medicine for treating cancer can range between Rs 20,000 and Rs 80,000 in the market.