A bill has been proposed to the Lok Sabha that could allow for practitioners of alternative forms of medicine – ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH) – to practise as qualified doctors.
The proposal has been attacked by doctors. They cite the fact that the proposed “bridge course” does not give the same level of experience in the medical field as an actual medical degree.
The new policy comes as part of the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill. This would replace the current Medical Council of India (MCI) with a new body. Many doctors went on strike in protest of this change on January 2, disrupting the outpatient services of many hospitals. The strikes appeared to garner attention from the government, which responded to the protests of the bill by referring it to the Parliamentary Standing Committee for review.
One of the key areas of concern within the new bill is the potential for the transfer of AYUSH practitioners to allopathic fields. Dr K K Aggarwal, the former president of the Indian Medical Association has said that allowing AYUSH graduates to practice modern medicine will simply promote quackery.
Dr Aggarwal also expresses concerns regarding the replacement of the MCI. He believes that replacing the MCI with a body of which the majority of positions are filled by government appointment is a ‘retrograde step’. Although the MCI has been criticised heavily in respected news outlets, positions within it are democratically elected. Any Indian doctor holding a medical license is eligible to vote.
Some have claimed that the bill represents government intrusion into the medical professional field. Accusations have also been made that the government could use this newfound influence of the medical field to prioritise certain treatments or research fields over others to suit their own interests.
The bill also states the desire to foster a deeper relationship between the Central Council of Homoeopathy and the Central Council of Indian Medicine. Cooperation between the two institutions would lead to the bridge course meant to prepare graduates of AYUSH fields for positions in which they would also be able to prescribe allopathic treatments and medications.
Effectively, this allows an unelected board of people — who are not necessarily professionals within the medical field — the ability to grant medical qualifications to individuals who are vastly under-qualified to practise modern medicine. Some have claimed that this could lead to what is effectively government licensed quackery.
Criticisms of the bill have arisen even within the BJP. “People run homoeopathy and Siddha colleges from cowsheds — I concede there are some good Ayurveda colleges but there is no regulation. How can they be allowed to practice allopathy?” said Lok Sabha MP Dr Sanjay Jaiswal, a member of the standing committee that is due to examine the NMC bill. He goes on to ask why the bill, despite involving the medical profession, did not consult any qualified professionals during its drafting.