The Medical Bill That Caused the Indian Medical Association to Go on Strike

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Amidst heavy rains and flooding across the country and the uproar caused by the abrogating of Section 370, a bill has quietly been passed by the Legislature that has upset many doctors across the country. The National Medical Commission Bill, 2019 has been passed by the Lok Sabha and the Rajya Sabha and has caused an uproar in the medical community that has gone unnoticed in the public forum. Let’s look a bit deeper into this.

The Birth of the Bill

The Medical Council of India (MCI) came into being after the Indian Medical Council Act, 1933 and was reconstituted in 1956. This colonial-era institution handles all matters in relation to medical education and practice like accreditation of colleges, registration of doctors, postgrad admissions etc.

The MCI however has not exactly been working as it should have been. The Bill includes reasons for why this bill is necessary and calls the MCI stagnant and unable to keep up with the times. It also mentions regulations that have caused bottlenecks to creep into the system and general inefficiency. 

This resulted in the Council being dismissed by the President in 2011 and was entrusted to a Board of Governors. A draft of the Bill was reviewed in 2017 but the changes recommended by the Parliamentary were taken into account with 40 out of the 56 being accepted, 7 being partially accepted and 9 being rejected.

 The Letter of the Law

The contentious bill has many aspects that we will glance over. The first is that
It breaks up the MCI into 4 separate autonomous boards. They are for
Undergrad Education board
Postgrad Education Board
Medical Assessment 
Rating Board and an Ethics and Medical Registration board

This move is aimed at separating out the different functions of the MCI to speed up the procedural steps and achieve results faster. 

Another controversial point has been the inclusion of “Community Healthcare Providers”. They are supposed to be mid-level healthcare providers who are “Connected with modern scientific medical profession”. The vagueness of this definition along with the ability to prescribe drugs has sent alarm bells ringing throughout the medical community. 

A major fixture of the protests has been around the National Exit Test (NEXT). This is supposed to replace the current MBBS exam as qualifying criteria for the certification to become a Doctor and combines it with the PG entrance exam NEET-UG. However, the law currently allows only for one attempt with no scope for improvement and has sent medical students scrambling already as if they fail, they would not be able to practice medicine. 

Private medical colleges are also set to be hit severely by this bill as they will have revised guidelines on their fee structures and other charges. This will also introduce reservations for EBC in private colleges. These moves have been taken in order to produce more doctors, as India has a ratio of 1 doctor for 11,082 civilians when it should be 1:1000.

The IMA is leading the fight however against the inclusion of AYUSH (Ayurveda, Yoga, Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy) practitioners to practice modern medicine after completing a “bridge course”. This has not gone down well with allopathic practitioners.

The Big Strike

As a result, the Indian Medical Association has called for a nationwide strike on August 8 to protest against the bill as they strongly disagree with certain tenements of the Bill and wish to appeal to the President before he signs the Bill into the Law.

 They feel that their opinions are not being heard or taken into consideration. This is a rather growing sentiment especially after the attacks on doctors in West Bengal and the nationwide strikes that followed. Thus, it seems like a strike today will determine public health for tomorrow.

- Nachiket Bhushan Kondhalkar

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