A potential antidote

Shailaja Chandra | Updated on January 08, 2018

The Medical Bill is not as bad as IMA says it is

News that the Medical Commission Bill is to go before the Parliamentary Standing Committee has come as a relief. In its present form, the draft contains disturbing features. While it addresses many of the ills the 2016 Parliamentary committee had exposed, concerning decades-long mismanagement by the Medical Council of India, the new Act must overcome, not add to, the blunders.

To be fair, the Bill has taken care of three critically important drawbacks of the existing MCI Act. First it seeks to remove the stranglehold of doctors who for over 60 years have been deciding everything that affects their own professional well-being with absolutely no input from the very interests they profess to work for — the public. The 62-year-old MCI Act had given license to doctors to elect and appoint themselves to decision making positions — a situation which gave winnability precedence over professional competence and the need to confront serious public health challenges which go beyond clinical specialities.

By drastically reducing the elected element from the proposed Commission, the de-politicisation of the highest statutory standard setting body, greater transparency and responsiveness to the health needs of the country — not just of doctors — can be achieved.

Mandating an exit-exam is another progressive step in the Bill. It is of critical importance to test the proficiency of all graduating doctors through a common examination instead of relegating it to examining bodies with undulant standards. It would help reduce — might even end — the present mess created by partisan inspection systems, political interference and protracted litigation.

Yet, another plus in the new Bill is placing non-medical people on the Commission — a practice that prevails in many countries to safeguard public interest. It is essential to induct informed non-clinicians to bring balance and breadth of vision to decision making.

IMA’s vociferous rejection of all these positive strategies through mass representations by 3 lakh practitioners is nothing but an effort to sabotage the Bill; it shows how deeply embedded is the self-preservation instinct despite all the ills that exist. Comparisons with lawyers and engineers are mere red herrings; neither the curriculum nor the approval of colleges of those two professions are administered by their elected members.

The Bill has, however, got into muddy waters by alluding to the possibility of a bridge course in case a joint body of the medical regulatory councils decides to utilise AYUSH doctors to augment medical services. The mere inclusion of an intent has rung alarm bells. At two national events the Prime Minister himself has talked about the propensity of AYUSH doctors to practice modern medicine instead of using time honoured traditional medicine systems in which they have been trained. Any move to legitimise modern medicine practice by all Vaidyas, Hakims and Homeopaths would devalue the systems and demoralise genuine traditional medicine practitioners.

To even keep a window open to legitimise the practice of modern medicine by AYUSH practitioners negates the prescient goodness of the traditional medicine systems. From a public standpoint what India needs is a core curriculum for all students of recognised systems of medicine, to overcome the present ignorance and caste based divide that exists between different systems.

The writer is a former Secretary at the health ministry

Published on January 03, 2018

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