On Tuesday, July 2, the Lok Sabha passed the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) by a voice vote. This bill provides for the supersession of the Medical Council of India (MCI) for two years, starting in September 2018 and replaced an Ordinance that came into effect on February 21.
The Medical Council of India (MCI) was established by the Medical Council Act 1956 to set standards and curriculum for medical professionals and colleges, respectively. However, it was dissolved in 2018.
According to Health Minister Harsh Vardhan, the MCI had been dragging its feet for years and earning a reputation marred by scams and corruption. The Council was unable to discharge its duties effectively.
An oversight committee constituted by the Supreme Court to supervise the MCI also complained that the MCI was not “non cooperative and non-compliant” with its instructions.
All members of the oversight committee resigned in protest, forcing the government to dissolve the MCI altogether and issue an ordinance for a replacement board of governors.
Hence, a fresh bill was introduced by Minister Vardhan to replace the Ordinance issued.
“Although the National Medical Commission Bill could be introduced in near future but to have legal continuity every Ordinance has to be converted into a law,” said the minister.
What is the National Medical Commission Bill?
Under this Indian Medical Council (Amendment) bill, a board of 12 governors will take over the duties of the IMC. The government plans to introduce the more comprehensive National Medical Commission Bill to replace the colonial-era Medical Council Act 1956.
The National Medical Commission bill was first introduced in December 2017, but was contentious because it allowed practitioners of alternative medicines to pursue a “bridge course” allopathy and make up for the lack of doctors.
However, medical professionals, including those at the Indian Medical Association, protested saying that AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha, and Homoeopathy) doctors being allowed to modern medicine would promote “quackery”.
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After strong resistance, the government amended the 2017 bill to remove the bridge course and include a fine of upto Rs 5 lakh and year long prison sentence for those practicing medicine without authorisation.
The amended National Medical Commission Bill also gives state government autonomy over rural healthcare facilities and states that the MBBS final will be a national exit examination (NEXT) that will screen medical students for their license to practice.
Although the Cabinet approved the amended bill in 2018, it eventually lapsed after the 16th Lok Sabha was dissolved.
Doctor’s protests in West Bengal
Lately, the government has been particularly focused on the medical community’s concerns. After some junior doctors were attacked in NRS Medical Hospital in West Bengal, doctors across the state and nation and even in private hospitals demonstrated for several days.
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The protesting doctors demanded more efficient security facilities and better treatment in general. They refused to work until the Bengal state government could guarantee their safety.
Outpatient services were shut down for 12 hours a day and hospitals were understaffed. Only emergency services were active.
Taking note of the violence and unrest in Bengal post-elections, the Home Ministry had issued a notice to CM Mamata Banerjee. Banerjee, who is also the state’s health minister, first brushed off the centre’s notice and the doctor’s strikes as a result of an anti-TMC conspiracy by BJP and its allies.
However, she eventually agreed to hold a public meeting with representatives of the striking doctors to hear their demands. After speaking with her, the doctors called off their strike because Banerjee promised to appoint nodal officers for security and PR officers to communicate with patient’s families.
Rhea Arora is a Staff Writer at Qrius