The Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for an indefinite strike in response to the proposed National Medical Commission Bill.
The bill has caused uproar within India’s medical community since it was announced. More than 25,000 doctors held a ‘mahapanchayat’, or large gathering, in Delhi on March 25 in opposition to the bill. The proposed strike could swell these numbers further, with IMA national president Ravi Wankhedkar requesting all medical students and doctors to join the strike.
One of the key concerns of doctors regarding the NMC bill is the potential for a “bridge course.” Completion of the course would allow students of ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy (AYUSH) therapies to work within mainstream medicine (allopathy).
Phrases such as “half baked doctors” and “an army of quacks” have frequently been used to describe potential outcomes. A senior doctor at the King Edward Memorial Hospital has said that if the government wishes to push the practice of AYUSH therapies, it does not need to impose laws that would also affect allopathy.
Amendments are currently being made to the proposed bill. However, Wankhedkar remains doubtful He has called them “deceptive to such an extent that it will open the floodgates to allow back-door entry to cross-pathy, thereby promoting quackery legally. Even after cosmetic amendments, core issues still remain where it is.”
Proposed changes to the bill have included making the bridge course an optional, rather than than mandatory aspect of AYUSH courses. This would be unlikely to change the minds of the protesting doctors as any AYUSH practitioner who wishes to practice allopathic treatments would still be able to. Fears of under qualified doctors practising legally are therefore still present, with only those opting out of the course being limited to AYUSH therapies.
The other controversial aspect of the NMC bill is the suggested replacement of the Medical Council of India (MCI) — an elected board of medical professionals. Under the NMC bill’s proposals, the MCI would be replaced with a new body in which the majority of positions would be filled by unelected government appointees.
The NMC bill has been seen by the IMA as government intrusion. It would effectively allow for an unelected group of individuals – for whom medical education would not necessarily be a requirement – to make decisions with the potential to significantly affect India’s healthcare sector.
Opposition to the bill is abundant. If the bill continues to be pushed without considerable reform it is likely that strikes will continue for some time.