Transform, reform but get it to perform

The health ministry may have constituted a governing body for MCI but the need for reforms in the sector is far from over

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Sonal Matharu | July 14, 2010



Former Medical Council of India (MCI) president Ketan Desai amassed Rs 24.19 crore in his name and his wife’s name, between August 1996 and November 2002, when he ruled medical education in India. More private medical colleges churned out doctors and Desai’s bank accounts kept growing bigger and better. After his arrest, it was the health ministry which finally took charge to do some damage control. A team of six doctors was put together as the ‘governing body of the MCI’ and was thrown to the forefront to do what the MCI had left undone.

“Who are these doctors in the governing body? Where have they come from? How were they selected? Do they even know anything about medical education in India?” These were some of the questions one of my sources, who has been working in the health sector for over 13 years now, had in mind once she heard about the work which these six doctors are supposed to do in no more than a few weeks.

No doubt, the six members on board the sinking MCI are pioneers in healthcare delivery in their streams, but whether they will be able to rise up to health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s expectations or not, only time will tell. The MCI scandal just turned all heads toward the situation of healthcare and the apathy of the healthcare providers in India. There was a loud cry from outside and within the sector for reforms in healthcare delivery and medical education.

George Thomas, editor of Indian Journal of Medical Ethics, wrote in Economic and Political Weekly recently on ‘Regulation of medical Education: Time for Radical Change’. He argues that a nominated council cannot be the solution. “In short term, perhaps there is no other choice, but in the long term it is dangerous to have a regulatory body which owes allegiance only to the government in power,” he wrote. He adds that the council’s term is for a year and under no circumstances it should be extended. A new regulatory body should be formed which should be accountable not only to the government and the medical fraternity but also to the public at large.

Realising that reforms were testy waters, health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad curtailed the powers of the MCI last week with the revised draft of the proposed National Council of Human Resources in Health (NCHRH) Bill. Once passed, separate bodies, National Committee for Accreditation and National Medical Education and Training Board, will be formed which will register and accredit medical colleges and prepare curricula for all streams of education in the health sector. The role of MCI will be reduced to only licensing, continuing education and ethics.

If, even after a year, the government is clueless about how to regulate medical education in India, the dissolved general council of MCI will be automatically revived. Reforms in the health ministry are long overdue. The government needs to take swift actions now that a beginning has been made. Split the councils and committees, divide the work for efficiency, rope in credible faces for winning public trust, but deliver. And deliver fairly. MCI or no MCI, the credibility of the medical professionals and the profession must be restored at any cost. And this trust can be won again only if the ministry is transparent in its affairs and feels a responsibility to be accountable to the people it is supposed to serve.

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