Russia to invest 550 billion rubles in primary healthcare by 2026

In the next five years, the Kremlin intends to spend additional 550 billion rubles to improve primary healthcare. The pandemic has deepened the crisis in the sector, but even before COVID-19, state policy regarding emergency medical services and healthcare was often criticized.

The Russian government plans record investment in its domestic primary healthcare sector and the nation’s emergency medical services until 2026, says EMS World citing senior officials of the Ministry of Health and local healthcare analysts. According to Russia’s Deputy Prime Minister for Social Policy Tatyana Golikova, the Kremlin intends to spend 550 billion rubles ($7,3 billion), of which about 100 billion rubles will be invested this year. The reform was initially supposed to begin in July 2020 but was postponed until this year due to the pandemic.

Among other goals, the reform should address the local emergency medical services (EMS) sector with a particular focus on ensuring better access to EMS for citizens living in smaller settlements. The government aims to improve access to EMS for more than 40 million people by investing funds in the construction and renovation of first aid stations, raising the salaries of paramedics and improvement of the overall technical level of the industry.

According to analysts, the reform is an acute need for the sector, as the number of emergency hospitals and first aid stations in Russia has significantly declined in the past decade, while the level of use of these institutions has increased, especially during the pandemic. At the same time, some experts consider the allocated funds insufficient to substantially improve the situation. According to Co-Chair of the Russian Trade Union of Medical Workers Andrеy Konoval, the planned investments are still not enough “to conduct a large-scale, successful reform in the industry”. His data shows that the current share of state spending on healthcare does not exceed 4% of GDP, which is low even compared with emerging nations. According to Eurasianet, the funding of the Russian primary care sector and EMS should be increased at least fivefold to solve the majority of existing problems.

Those latter include shortages of paramedics, medical equipment and ambulances. The pandemic led to a massive outflow of personnel from the industry, while remaining employees often had to work overtime. The situation with emergency hospitals itself is difficult, especially in sparsely populated or hard-to-reach areas. The government expects the reform, which is supposed to be conducted jointly by federal and regional authorities, to improve the situation. Russia’s ageing local EMS fleet is also meant to be updated with up to 19,000 new ambulances delivered over the next five years. Besides, the state plan envisages measures to reduce bureaucracy and raise the efficiency of provided services.

By Anna Litvina