AT LONG LAST, the District government seems to be heading in the right direction in the health planning field. Council member Polly Shackleton has introduced a strong bill to prevent hospitals and doctors from building or installing unneeded medical equipment. Many of its provisions got substantial support at a public hearing last week. And even the Department of Human Resources, which has bot been noted for vigorous leadrship in this field, suggested some major improvements.

Perhaps the most controversail part of Mrs. Shackleton's bill - other than the administrative details scuffling - is its extension to doctor's offices to the requirement that the planning agency approve the installation of any equipment costing more than $150,000. That seems to us to be a wise expansion. One of the major components in the rapidly rising costs of medical services is the overhead and upkeep of high technology equipemnt, that it need regardless of whether it is located in hospital or private officies.

A second area in which there is likely to be dispute is the proposal by Albert P. Russo, the acting human resources director, that the planning agency have power to close wards in hospitals when they are no longer needed. This, too, is something the agency should be able to do. Hospitals in the District are already operating under capacity and the number of empty bed is likely to grow under way in the District and in the suburbs. Empty beds or wards simply add uncessarily to the expenses a hospital must pass on the patients.

The need for an effective health planning agency that has power of this kind in this city is crystal clear. One way in which a community can begin to control the rapidly rising costs of medical care is through rational planning of the way in which health needs are met. Most of the rest of the country has gone far beyond the District in creating agencies that can do just that. While some of the provisions of Mrs. Shackleton's bill - mostly dealing with administration - could do with some tinkering, it offers the District a splendid opportunity to catch up.