Amendments to the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill made by the Rajya Sabha have been approved by Lok Sabha MPs, bringing the controversial legislation closer to becoming law.
The upper house of Parliament passed the NMC Bill last week with two amendments proposed, necessitating that the Bill be returned to the lower house for passage again. Union Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan has praised the Bill, calling it “one of the biggest reforms” in the history of Indian healthcare and “the need of the hour”. The bill seeks to reform medical education in India and replaces the Medical Council of India – a mostly democratically-elected body – with a government-appointed National Medical Commission.
Despite Vardhan’s praise for the Bill, it has been roundly criticised by doctors and medical students and sparked protests nationwide – some witnessing copies of the Bill being burnt. Numerous doctors went on strike – and while some have ended stirs, such as at Safdarjung Hospital and the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) in Delhi earlier this week, the Indian Medical Association (IMA) has called for a national strike beginning tomorrow.
The major criticisms of the bill include allowing practitioners from a number of disciplines to practise as allopathic doctors following completion of a six-month ‘bridge course’. Among these are practitioners of alternative medicine systems including Ayurveda and homoeopathy. This has sparked fears of a potential new generation of quacks, even as such measures have come into force in states such as Maharashtra.
A key concern held by the medical community is that the bill dilutes the influence and representation of doctors through the replacement of the MCI. Supporters of the legislation claim it is necessary to root out corruption, but doctors accuse the Bill of centralising power in the hands of bureaucrats and the central government as well as diminishing the role of states.
Reform of the medical sector may be a noble ambition, but it is clear that the Centre and Parliament and the medical fraternity do not see eye to eye on the law. With strike action impending, the impasse between them shows no sign of ending soon.