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Year : 2016  |  Volume : 5  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 663-671

Health worker posting and transfer at primary level in Tamil Nadu: Governance of a complex health system function

Public Health Foundation of India, Gurgaon, Haryana, India

Correspondence Address:
Surekha Garimella
Plot No. 47, Sector 44, Institutional Area, Gurgaon - 122 002, Haryana
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/2249-4863.197310

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Background: Posting and transfer (PT) of health personnel - placing the right health workers in the right place at the right time - is a core function of any large-scale health service. In the context of government health services, this may be seen as a simple process of bureaucratic governance and implementation of the rule of law. However the literature from India and comparable low and middle-income country health systems suggests that in reality PT is a contested domain, driven by varied expressions of private and public interest throughout the chain of implementation. Objective: To investigate policymaking for PT in the government health sector and implementation of policies as experienced by different health system actors and stakeholders at primary health care level. Methodology: We undertook an empirical case study of a PT reform policy at primary health care level in Tamil Nadu State, to understand how different groups of health systems actors experience PT. In-depth qualitative methods were undertaken to study processes of implementation of PT policies enacted through 'counselling' of health workers (individualized consultations to determine postings and transfers). Results: PT emerges as a complex phenomenon, shaped partially by the laws of the state and partially as a parallel system of norms and incentives requiring consideration and coordination of the interests of different groups. Micro-practices of governance represent homegrown coping mechanisms of health administrators that reconcile public and private interests and sustain basic health system functions. Beyond a functional perspective of PT, it also reflects justice and fairness as it plays out in the health system. It signifies how well a system treats its employees, and by inference, is an index of the overall health of the system. Conclusions: For a complex governance function such as PT, the roles of private actors and private interests are not easily separable from the public, but rather are intertwined within the complexities of delivery of a public service. This complexity blurs conventional boundaries of private and public ownership and behaviour, and raises critical questions for the interpretation of coordinated governance. Hence, the imperative of enforcing rules may need to be complemented with bottom-up policy approaches, including treating PT not merely as system dysfunction, but also as a potential instrument of governance innovations, procedural justice and the accountability of health services to communities they seek to serve.

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