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View | Mental health gets the much needed attention in the Union Budget

View | Mental health gets the much needed attention in the Union Budget

View | Mental health gets the much needed attention in the Union Budget
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By Vanita Srivastava  Mar 31, 2022 2:03:43 PM IST (Updated)

The government on Tuesday announced a plan to set up a National Tele Mental Health program under which 23 tele-mental health centers will be launched with the NIMHANS as the nodal centre.

Mental health and digital health have become priority areas in the aftermath of the pandemic, the Union Budget announced on Tuesday has shown. The COVID pandemic had germinated the seeds of yet another pandemic—mental health — and the government has underlined measures to address this.

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The government on Tuesday announced a plan to set up a National Tele Mental Health program under which 23 tele-mental health centers will be launched with the National Institute of Mental Health and Neuro Sciences (NIMHANS) as the nodal centre.
"The pandemic has accentuated mental health problems in people of all ages. To better the access to quality mental health counseling and care services, a National Tele Mental Health program will be launched," Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said while delivering her budget speech.
The Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Bangalore will provide tech support for the mental health programme, she added.
Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya wrote on Twitter: "Aatmanirbhar bharat ka Budget will work as a milestone in augmenting mental health in the country as well as boosting research and reaching the best health facilities to the common people."
The National Tele-Mental Health Programme will ensure access to quality, standardised and free 24x7 mental health services to all and it will play a crucial role in bridging a major gap in access to mental healthcare in the country.
Ashutosh Raghuvanshi, MD & CEO, Fortis Healthcare Ltd, says it is very encouraging to see the government's attention on mental health. "The proposed National Tele-mental Programme will prove to be beneficial for a large section of the society, enabling access to quality mental health counselling. "
Debanjan Banerjee, consultant geriatric psychiatrist, Kolkata and life fellow, Indian psychiatric society, says that the last two years of the unprecedented COVID crisis has taught us that mental health and mental well-being are of utmost importance. "There have been a lot of mental health problems like depression and sleep problems. Telepsychiatry has emerged as an important part of the new normal. The setting up of the National Tele Mental Health Programme is a very pertinent step. It will help people in remote areas. Tele psychiatry of course has its own limitations-some people may not have enough digital literacy but once put in place it will be a better new normal and a lot of people will benefit from it."
Harsh Mahajan, President, NATHEALTH, maintains that the launch of the tele-mental program has brought mental health issues to the forefront which will improve the quality of mental health counselling.
Vandana Shetty, a consultant psychiatrist at Mind Body Clinic, Bangalore, also welcomes the decision. "In terms of both manpower and accessibility to mental health, we still face a resource deficit. In such a scenario, tele mental health services will help bridge the mental health gap and serve the needy."
e-healthcare takes centrestage
An open platform, for the National Digital Health Ecosystem that will be rolled out will consist of digital registries of health providers and health facilities, unique health identity, consent framework, and universal access to health facilities.
The rolling out of the digital health mission will also help in providing greater access to healthcare services and strengthen capacities.
The digital health mission can boost the efficiency of the health systems –like data collection and analysis, improved medical and health records, real-time monitoring of the programmes.
“Digital health ecosystem is an area where we would have appreciated some more allocation, especially the National Digital Health ID initiative. Of course, as the programme is a long-term one, I am sure that funds will be made available in the future," says Raghuvanshi.
That apart, the special status given to data centres is going to have an impact on the digitalization of the healthcare ecosystem, both from the insurers' as well as the providers' perspective. "I think these are very positive outcomes from the health perspective."
Mahajan also feels that the speedy roll-out of the digital health mission, move towards provision of unique health identity, upgradation of two lakh angadwadis, alignment of national skill framework with industry needs and value-based procurement augurs well for modernization of healthcare in the post-pandemic era.
He also stresses on the need to create fiscal incentives for investments/PPP in both hospital and out-of-hospital delivery models like telemedicine, home care, senior care and long-term care. “The Government should consider lowering cost of financing capital, free flow of credit into the sector especially for the build-up of new infra and capacity and continue investment in incentivising capacity build-up of supply-side levers through PPP like medical education, diagnostic and device manufacturing.”
V Ashok, Group CFO, ACG, a leading pharma manufacturers maintain that the Union Budget for 2022-23 accelerates economic growth through higher capital investment and lower inflation. Tax rates remaining unchanged despite likely challenges in fiscal targets is a very positive move to drive consumption and money in the hands of consumers.
However, he said that with respect to the pharma sector, "we were expecting higher budget allocation due to the aftereffects of the pandemic. India being the pharma capital of the world looks forward to greater support apart.”
More Needed
While mental and digital health are priorities, the other areas should not be dwarfed. Priority should be laid on the upgradation of skills of health workers, more investment in research and innovation, upgradation of district hospitals and strengthening of medical college hospitals. There is a need to develop multi-layered, multi-skilled health apparatus.
It is however important to ensure that the benefits reach the most marginalised children, and adequately address their health and nutrition needs.
Sudarshan, CEO, Save the Children says that the Budget speech made no mention on the allocation of the budget for improving the core health sector. “In keeping with the adverse impact of COVID-19 on the health of children, it is critical that adequate budget allocation on health sector is made, in keeping with our demand to have a budgetary allocation of 2.5% of the GDP.”
— The author, Dr Vanita Srivastava, is an independent science and health writer. Views expressed are personal
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