The government’s move to introduce the National Medical Commission Bill, 2016, in the next Parliament session, has triggered a raging debate in the medical fraternity. A paper on the bill drafted by a committee formed by the NITI Aayog has added fuel to fire with irate doctors asking how its three members—P.K. Mishra, additional private secretary to the PM, NITI Aayog CEO Amitabh Kant and health secretary B.P. Sharma—could be better suited for the job than medical professionals.
In a scathing communication to the government, Chandigarh-based Medicos Legal Action Group (MLAG) has alleged that MPs directly and indirectly associated with private medical colleges were upset when the MCI began INSisting on minimum standards, and hence the attempt to replace the MCI with a commission that will have members nominated by the Centre and the states. According to MLAG, there are at least 80 such MPs.
“The very forces that misused and armtwisted the MCI to serve their interests are now seeking to get total control through the bill,” MLAG claims in the letter. “Medical education has been recognised as a cash cow with seats being sold for crores…. Since MCI does not toe their line, it is now being attempted to bring the entire process under government control where political power, not standards, will determine whether a college will be given recognition or not.”
Others fear that the bill appears to be subverting the self-regulatory status of the profession, turning the regulator into a department under the health ministry. If NITI Aayog’s prescription is to be accepted, they point out, all other self-regulating bodies like the Bar Council of India and the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India would also have to be scrapped.
Many doctors believe the large number of Indian doctors working abroad is testimony that there is nothing inherently wrong with the MCI. “This is borne out by the growing number of foreigners choosing Indian hospitals for treatment,” says one. It is the government, the doctors argue, that has interfered with medical education over the years. Pointing out how ordinances were issued to ensure registration of AYUSH graduates as medical practitioners by the, they argue it makes a certain degree of dilution inevitable.
A senior doctor in Bangalore believes the perception of the MCI as a venal body dates back to pre-2013 days and, since then, it has put its act together. “In Karnataka, the MCI slashed many seats even in government colleges, causing an uproar,” he says. “The state had to pledge Rs 32 crore to ensure that the lacunae in infrastructure were taken care of. Private colleges are very afraid now. Everything is by the book. We are allowing ourselves to walk into a trap. Dissolving the MCI is a very dangerous path we are treading. The known devil is better than an unknown angel.” In fact, it is the NITI Aayog paper that suggests an end to fee ceilings and legitimises profiteering in medical education.