Over the past few days, there have been expressions of concern in various fora over a few clauses of the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, now enacted. Even medical professionals have protested.
The issues –
According to media reports, there are five primary concerns. These pertain to the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET)/National Exit Test, empowering of community health providers for limited practice, regulating fees for only 50% seats in private colleges, reducing the number of elected representatives in the Commission, and the overriding powers of the Centre.
Clearing the air –
- First, a focus on the examinations. For the past few years, a separate NEET is being conducted for undergraduate and postgraduate courses. This Act consolidates multiple exams at the undergraduate level with a single NEET and in turn avoids multiple counselling processes. NEXT will act as the final year MBBS examination across India, an entrance test to the postgraduate level, and as a licentiate exam before doctors can practise. It aims to reduce disparities in the skill sets of doctors graduating from different institutions. It would also be a single licentiate exam for graduates across the world. Thus, the government has in effect implemented a ‘One-Nation-One-Exam’ in medical education.
- Second, concerns have been expressed over the limited licence to practise for community health providers. We have to appreciate that even with about 70% of India’s population residing in the rural areas, the present ratio of doctors in urban and rural areas is 3.8:1; 27,000 doctors serve about 650,000 villages of the country. The NMC Act attempts to address this gap by effectively utilising modern medicine professionals, other than doctors in enabling primary and preventive health care. Further, the Act requires them to “…qualify such criteria as may be specified….” thereby ensuring quality.
- The next issue relates to the capping of fees. It is an open secret today that private medical colleges are capitation fee-driven, resort to a discretionary management quota and often have charges of corruption levelled against them. The Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 has no provision for fee regulation. The NMC Act removes the discretionary quota by using a transparent fee structure. It empowers the NMC to frame guidelines for determination of not only fees but all other charges in 50% of seats in private colleges to support poor and meritorious students.
- The next issue is of representation in the NMC. The act provides for a transparent search and selection process with an eclectic mix of elected and nominated representatives, both in the search committee and the commission itself. The government has further addressed the concern of preponderance of selected members in the commission by adding members from State medical councils and universities.
- Finally, we need to view the issue of overriding powers of the Centre in the context that the Medical Council of India, even if directed by the government on critical matters, may not always pay heed. In public emergencies, citizens expect the government to address issues. In the current set-up, it may not be possible all the time. Also, the government should be able to give directions so that NMC regulations align with its policy. Hence, these powers. The use of such authority would follow the principle of natural justice: the NMC’s opinion would be sought before giving directions.
The efforts of successive governments have now culminated with the NMC Act replacing the IMC Act. There is no denying that medical education needs continuous reforms in order to usher in improvements in health care. There cannot be just one solution. The NMC Act is a serious attempt to meet the primary need of more medical professionals in the country; it is a beginning.
Source – The Hindu
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