Workforce problems at rural public health-centres in India: a WISN retrospective analysis and national-level modelling study

Aatmika Nair, Yash Jawale, Sweta R. Dubey, Surabhi Dharmadhikari, Siddhesh Zadey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Background: Rural India has a severe shortage of human resources for health (HRH). The National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) deploys HRH in the rural public health system to tackle shortages. Sanctioning under NRHM does not account for workload resulting in inadequate and inequitable HRH allocation. The Workforce Indicators of Staffing Needs (WISN) approach can identify shortages and inform appropriate sanctioning norms. India currently lacks nationally relevant WISN estimates. We used existing data and modelling techniques to synthesize such estimates. Methods: We conducted a retrospective analysis of existing survey data for 93 facilities from 5 states over 8 years to create WISN calculations for HRH cadres at primary and community health centres (PHCs and CHCs) in rural areas. We modelled nationally representative average WISN-based requirements for specialist doctors at CHCs, general doctors and nurses at PHCs and CHCs. For 2019, we calculated national and state-level overall and per-centre WISN differences and ratios to depict shortage and workload pressure. We checked correlations between WISN ratios for cadres at a given centre-type to assess joint workload pressure. We evaluated the gaps between WISN-based requirements and sanctioned posts to investigate suboptimal sanctioning through concordance analysis and difference comparisons. Results: In 2019, at the national-level, WISN differences depicted workforce shortages for all considered HRH cadres. WISN ratios showed that nurses at PHCs and CHCs, and all specialist doctors at CHCs had very high workload pressure. States with more workload on PHC-doctors also had more workload on PHC-nurses depicting an augmenting or compounding effect on workload pressure across cadres. A similar result was seen for CHC-specialist pairs—physicians and surgeons, physicians and paediatricians, and paediatricians and obstetricians–gynaecologists. We found poor concordance between current sanctioning norms and WISN-based requirements with all cadres facing under-sanctioning. We also present across-state variations in workforce problems, workload pressure and sanctioning problems. Conclusion: We demonstrate the use of WISN calculations based on available data and modelling techniques for national-level estimation. Our findings suggest prioritising nurses and specialists in the rural public health system and updating the existing sanctioning norms based on workload assessments. Workload-based rural HRH deployment can ensure adequate availability and optimal distribution.

Original languageEnglish
Article number147
JournalHuman Resources for Health
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Human resources for health
  • India
  • Rural health
  • Specialist doctors
  • WISN
  • Workforce shortage


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