The Union Cabinet on Wednesday dropped a controversial provision of “bridge course”, which would have allowed practitioners of alternative medicines to pursue allopathy, from the National Medical Commission Bill.
Observing the need to act strictly against unqualified practitioners, the cabinet also approved an amendment to make the punishment for any unauthorised practice of medicine “severe” by including a provision for imprisonment of up to one year along with a fine extending to up to Rs 5 lakh.
Chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the cabinet, also approved that the final MBBS examination would be held as a common examination throughout the country and would serve as an exit test, to be called the National Exit Test (NEXT).
“Students would not have to appear in a separate exam after MBBS to get a licence to practice. NEXT would also serve as the screening test for doctors with foreign medical qualifications in order to practice in India,” an official statement released by the government said. If approved, NEXT would become the common exit examination on lines of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test, which is a common entrance examination for students who wish to study any graduate medical course (MBBS), dental course (BDS) or postgraduate course (MD / MS) in government or private medical colleges in India.
The amendments are in line with the recommendations of a parliamentary standing co mmittee of Health and Family Welfare that scrutinised the Bill and submitted a report last week.
The Bill also proposes to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) with National Medical Commission (NMC) as the apex medical education regulator in the country.
Doctors’ associations have been up in arms against the Bill over some of the now withdrawn provisions. They had gone on a brief strike when the Bill was introduced in the Lok Sabha in January.
The “bridge course” for AYUSH practitioners to practice modern medicine, which has been removed after the amendments, was the most controversial aspect of the Bill.
The government has now left it to the state governments to take necessary measures for addressing and promoting primary health care in rural areas.
It also said that the maximum limit of 40 per cent seats – for which fee would be regulated in private medical institutions and deemed universities – has been increased to 50 per cent. Further, responding to the demands from states to increase their representation in the NMC, the nominees of states and UTs in the Commission have been increased from 3 to 6. The NMC will comprise 25 members of which at least 21 will be doctors.
The cabinet also approved a slew of MoUs, including one with Zambia on judicial cooperation and another with UK and Northern Ireland for tackling organised crime. It also gave its approval to the restructuring of National Skill Development Fund (NSDF) and National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC) to strengthen governance, implementation and monitoring framework.