The National Medical Council (NMC) is a flawed Regulator

The parliament of India recently passed the NMC bill and the President Ramnath Kovind swiftly gave his assent to make the bill the new law. The bill has been in the works for a while and one can’t really say that it has been passed in haste. Yet, some of the features of the bill seem to be completely detrimental to the effective regulation and administration of medical education in India.

The law now envisages the abolition of the erstwhile, Medical Council of India, which had so far governed and regulated medical education in India. It is no secret that MCI had over the years become a den of corruption and had fostered an opaque system of patronage, which has done a huge disservice to the medical education sector in the country. Thus, the demise of MCI should not be much lamented. However, the NMC Act too does some serious injury to the very sector it professes to reform.

The Regulator is not Independent

Members of the NMC will include the Chairperson, four Presidents of the Boards set up under the NMC, Director Generals of the Directorate General of Health Services and the Indian Council of Medical Research, five Directors of medical institutions including the AIIMS, Delhi, five members (part-time) to be elected by the registered medical practitioners, and three members appointed on rotational basis from among the nominees of the states in the Medical Advisory Council. Most of these members will essentially be drawn from the government and will be expected to toe the government’s line.

A search committee comprising of the Cabinet Secretary, Union Health Secretary, CEO of NITI Aayog, and four experts nominated by the central government (of which, two have experience in the medical field), will recommend the name of the chairperson of the NMC, which will be duly appointed by the government. While, the search committee is quite high-powered, its composition once again reflects the bias they will have, while selecting the NMC Chairperson.

To make matters more explicit section 46 of the act says ” “Central Government which will direct, as it may deem necessary, to a State Government for carrying out all or any of the provisions of the Act and the State Government shall comply with such directions.” This is in fact an assault on the rights of the states and clearly concentrates unnecessary powers in the hands of the federal government.

Quackery is In

NMC acknowledges the emerging shortage of doctors in India. However to combat this, the Act resorts to legitimizing quackery!!! It is a well known fact that all over the world, it takes several years of study and training for someone to qualify as a doctor. NMC through, what can only be called as a sleight of hand, proposes to offer a 6 month ”bridge course”to the practitioners of Ayush systems of medicines. This will qualify them as ”Community Health Practitioners” (CHP’s) and these CHP’s will be allowed to prescribe allopathic medicines. Essentially, the CHP’s, after a bridge course of 6 months, will be able to independently practice medicine. While, the act does mention about the possible supervision of the CHP’s by medical practitioners in a timely manner, it isn’t clear about will this work in a country the size of India. To say that this will help solve the shortage and uneven distribution of medical practitioners in the country is pure chicanery.

The Central Government is the final arbiter

It is strange that the appeal against an order of the NMC can only be to the government. Thus, if a doctor is aggrieved with any decision of the NMC he can appeal to the Government of India. With the NMC largely populated with government nominees, government servants and officials, this hardly looks like a fair recourse. It is not clear, why a judicial body is not an appellate authority against the decisions of the NMC.

India certainly needs a regulator for medical education. The regulator however has to be an independent body, comprising of eminent persons from the relevant fields and free to carry out their work in a transparent manner. Moreover, the regulator must be above any possible or likely political interference.

Unfortunately, NMC as envisaged in the present Act is just not that.