Though close to nine lakh nurses are registered with various state nursing councils in the country, officials give that less than half of them (3.6 lakh) could be in active duty.
According to health ministry estimates, by the end of the 11th Plan (2007-2012), India would need 10.43 lakh nurses. Yet with the existing infrastructure, the number would stand at just 6.84 lakh, short by 3.59 lakh.
India, which has 1,597 nursing schools, 833 BSc (nursing) colleges and 97 MSc (nursing) colleges, has a capacity to train 79,850 diploma nurses, 41,650 graduate nurses and 1,940 post-graduate nurses a year.
However, over one-fifths of this number every year head to foreign shores in search of better pay. Britain's National Health Service alone recruits over 1,000 Indian nurses yearly. Nearly 12,500 of the 33,250 nurses who registered to work in Britain in 2005 had qualified abroad, mostly from India.
Says India's nursing advisor T Dileep Kumar: "States like UP, Bihar, Orissa, MP and Rajasthan are the worst affected by shortage of nurses. Also, for every doctor, there should be three nurses. But at present, the doctor nurse ratio in India is 1:1.5."
This is not all. A recent survey published in the Nursing Journal of India found a tremendously low interest among students wanting to take up nursing as a profession. A study of 200 children in Pune who opted for biology in class 12 found only 3.9 percent interested in nursing as a first priority.
Their knowledge of nursing as a profession was also poor with 66 percent students having a knowledge score below 50 percent.
Concluding that "a positive attitude towards nursing among students did not transmit into a desire to join nursing", the study suggests "A career guide for nursing should be developed to improve the level of knowledge (about nursing). This will help to improve the image of nursing."
The health ministry is now desperate to do something about this. Having allocated Rs 319 crore for the 11th Plan to strengthen nursing education, the ministry has identified 230 districts where there are no auxiliary nurse - midwives (ANM) and graduate nurse-midwives (GNM) - institutions and where such colleges will be set up. Four regional colleges of excellence are also being planned to improve the quality of nursing education.
"Two schools of nursing in Delhi's RML and Safdarjung hospitals are now being upgraded into college of nursing",Says Health minister A Ramadoss: "India's National Rural Health Mission requires a large number of nurses to serve at primary health centers. Today, nurses are the sheet anchor of our total health care delivery system."