A provision in the National Medical Commission Bill 2017, tabled in the Lok Sabha, has been creating differences of opinions among the doctors across India leading to resident doctors strike. Introducing a Bridge Course for Ayush doctors, the provision is seeking to allow them to practice modern medicine (allopathy). The course aims to develop bridges across the various systems of medicine and promote medical pluralism in the country.
Practitioners of AYUSH, deal in Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homoeopathy. Besides Ayush Bridge Course, the bill makes it mandatory for the seekers of undergraduate courses to clear the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), from the upcoming academic session. Moreover, eligibility for admission to these courses is to obtain a minimum of 50 per cent marks.
National Medical Commission Bill was initiated to replace corruption dirtied Medical Council of India for regulating medical education in India. It proposed a course so that the practitioners can work in rural health centres and national health programmes.
While several doctors are opposing the provision,there exist these national medical commission bill features which gives strong reasons for introducing the NMC Bridge Course. Rural Health Statistics 2014-15 show a huge shortfall of doctors and specialists in the rural healthcare system. Moreover, a large section of the rural population is left without an access of a doctor.
Studies show that MBBS doctors are unwilling to service rural and tribal areas. In fact, on various occasions registered medical practitioner or AYUSH doctors had provided medical care in remote areas. In such a scenario, it becomes important to fill the gaps in healthcare delivery at primary level and train the Ayush doctors.
NMC is intuiting that providing basic training of modern medicine to the doctors from other streams and permitting them to work at a primary level will be beneficial to people residing in rural areas. The Bridge Course for Ayush doctors is an initiative to create an availability of trained doctors to those areas who are in desperate need of medical help.
Karnataka Health and Family Welfare Minister, U.T. Khader said, “Allowing AYUSH practitioners to legally take up integrated practice will not only help in curbing quackery but also ensure that people in rural areas get timely treatment. Following the shortage of doctors and specialists, most people in rural areas do not have access to quality healthcare. They end up visiting quacks which is even more dangerous. Also several primary health centres in remote areas are still run by AYUSH practitioners.They know the pulse of the people seeking their services.”
However, the NMC Bridge Course has created a lot of disagreement as well.
The Indian Medical Association said, “Govt promoting legalised quackery by permitting Ayush doctors to practice allopathy through a bridge course.”
Several Indian doctors are not supporting the course and contending that it will lower the dignity of the Indian medical system.
National past president of the Indian Medical Association, KK Aggarwal said, “It is unacceptable to us as it will lead to an army of quacks in the country.”
Ophthalmologist and Vice President of IMA, Pune Branch, SanjayPatil also said, “It is a pro-private management bill, paving the way for widespread corruption. It removes all the regulations which are currently required to start a medical college.”
“The bill is anti-patient as well since it promotes unscientific mixing of systems of different medicines. In short, this will increase corruption and have tremendous negative impact on medical profession,” he added.
According to various doctors to study one system and practice another is unethical. They consider that the Bridge course for Ayush Doctors will make the medical profession of homoeopathy less popular and it will gradually lose its charm.
Senior orthopedic surgeon, Nitin Bhagali alleged that the government is cheating patients by letting Ayush doctors practice modern medicine.
He said, “When physicians with postgraduate (MD) degree in medicine are punished for calling themselves cardiologists or diabetologists then how twice-a-week training for a year entitles you practice like a registered medical practitioner holding medical degree (MBBS) in modern medicine.”
On the other hand, Ayurvedic & Homeopathic medical professionals are in support of Bridge course for Ayush doctors with the understanding of NMC bill pros and cons.
President of National Integrated Medical Associationand integrated medicine practitoner V D Tembhurnikar, said, “In villages and small towns, very few MBBS doctors and consultants are available. Again, their fee is not affordable to many. The bill will address the need for trained healthcare providers especially in rural parts.”
Although the NMC Bridge Course created a lot of controversy and NMC bill status is still not clear, the centre is firm that it can improve the doctor-patient ratio and create some medical assistance for the poorest masses in remote areas.