Bid to cleanse MCI; rural stint plan

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  • Published 30.09.14

New Delhi, Sept. 29: The Centre is reviewing the functioning of the Medical Council of India and hopes to reform the apex regulatory body that has long been embroiled in controversies linked to corruption involving medical colleges and doctors.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan today said his ministry had initiated a review of the council to find ways to ensure that regulation of medical education and the practice of medicine was conducted honestly.

“We’re looking at this issue, and we would like to bring about radical transformation in the way the regulatory (agency) functions,” he told a news conference where he outlined the government’s health sector initiatives.

A senior paediatrician and MCI member had written to Harsh Vardhan claiming irregularities in the council’s functioning.

Balvir Tomar had claimed that the MCI’s decisions relating to medical colleges were still being influenced by its disgraced former president Ketan Desai, who was arrested by the CBI in 2010 for allegedly seeking a bribe. Desai is out on bail.

At least two senior doctors, both MCI members, had also raised concerns in internal email correspondence that Desai, who is no longer a member, may have influenced the elections to the regulatory body’s executive committee last December.

“We’re aware of what’s going on,” Harsh Vardhan said. “We’ve announced a zero-tolerance policy on corruption and inefficiency.”

He also announced that the health ministry had written to the MCI seeking one year of rural service by postgraduate medical students. The proposal, meant to help alleviate the shortage of doctors in rural areas, is likely to be accepted but its details were not immediately available.

But a senior surgeon and former member of a government task force on medical education said that sending postgraduate medical students to rural areas would be “a waste of resources” unless the rural sites have adequate healthcare infrastructure.

“What will doctors studying for an MD or MS do in poorly equipped primary health centres or sub-centres?” Dr K.M. Shyamprasad asked.

Despite nearly two decades of debate and discussion, he said, even undergraduate medical students do not have to undergo mandatory rural service.

Harsh Vardhan also outlined the Centre’s proposal for a Universal Health Assurance Mission (UHAM) that would provide 50 essential generic drugs and 30 ayurvedic drugs free at government hospitals and health centres.

He said the mission would have a universal health insurance component and seek to provide free tertiary-level (hospital-based) care to everyone below the poverty line. The rest will have to pay a low insurance premium.

Harsh Vardhan said the mission was poised to become the world’s largest public health insurance programme.

He said the Centre estimated that only one in four Indians were now covered by private or government insurance. “When the numbers (of the insured) grow, the premium will come down.”

Senior health ministry officials said the details of the insurance plan were still to be worked out. “This is still a work in progress,” Lov Verma, the Union health secretary, told The Telegraph.

Harsh Vardhan also announced a proposal to establish departments for traditional medicine at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, New Delhi, and the six new similar institutes coming up in Bhopal, Bhubaneswar, Jodhpur, Patna, Raipur and Rishikesh.

A panel of experts chaired by H.R. Nagendra, vice-chancellor of the S-Vyasa University, Bangalore, has been asked to develop treatment protocols and identify areas of medicine where traditional practices such as ayurveda and yoga could be integrated.

The health ministry also plans to launch a nationwide social mobilisation campaign aimed at providing preventive health advice.

“We want every Indian to be equipped with information about nutrition and preventive health (so they can) take up healthy lifestyles,” Harsh Vardhan said.