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Doctors unite against bill

New Delhi: Doctors have buried their differences over medical governance to unite behind a call by the Indian Medical Association for a 12-hour shutdown of outpatient consultations on Tuesday to protest against a bill for a new medical regulatory structure.

Several doctors who have long aired concerns about corruption and unethical practices in medicine and demanded changes in governance have aligned themselves with the IMA call to doctors to provide only emergency and critical care services from 6am to 6pm on January 2.

Senior officials of the IMA, the nation's largest body of doctors, on Monday repeated their shutdown call after what they said was an "unsuccessful meeting" with Union health minister J.P. Nadda and his officials to discuss the bill, tabled in Parliament on Friday.

"We tried to explain the fallacies in the bill but they were not convinced," IMA national president Ravi Wankhedkar said.

Doctors are opposing provisions in the bill that they fear may increase the costs of medical education, lower quality standards in medical colleges, and allow homoeopaths and practitioners of traditional medicine to prescribe modern medicines.

The bill seeks to create a National Medical Commission and four medical boards to replace the corruption-tainted Medical Council of India. Unlike the MCI, an elected body of doctors, the commission will have government nominated members and five elected doctors.

"I fully support this strike. We will of course ensure that emergency services are provided, but this protest is important," said K.V. Babu, an ophthalmologist in Kannur, Kerala, who has been engaged in bitter battle with the IMA and the MCI.

The health ministry this evening sent a circular to central government hospitals including the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, Safdarjung Hospital and the Lady Hardinge Medical College to ensure "smooth and hassle-free services" to patients on Tuesday.

"Since the strike may involve a large number of medical professionals, it is anticipated there would be inconvenience to patient-care services in the hospitals," Gayatri Mishra, joint secretary in the health ministry, wrote in the note.

"It is requested that all necessary measures may be taken to ensure that patient health care and emergency services are run smoothly."

The note asked each hospital to submit a compliance report to the ministry.

A parliamentary standing committee had last year demanded a dismantling of the MCI and the establishment of a new regulatory structure.

Congress politician Jairam Ramesh has written to Nadda and Vice-President M. Venkaiah Naidu saying the bill has "many problematic provisions". He has demanded that it be referred to a parliamentary standing committee, of which he is a member, a PTI report said.

"Please do not hurry with this very important legislation in this manner. Another three-four months will not be disastrous for you. We can improve the bill substantially," PTI quoted from Ramesh's letter to Nadda.

Local IMA officials in Bengal and Patna said they had circulated the call for the strike to all their members. "We have asked our members to ensure that patients do not suffer," said Tapan Biswas, president-elect of the IMA's Bengal branch.

"We plan to fight this tooth and nail," said Rajiva Ranjan, IMA Bihar secretary.

Arun Gadre, a Pune-based gynaecologist and member of the Association of Doctors for Ethical Healthcare, who too had criticised the MCI in the past and called for changes in medical governance, said "a token strike by doctors is justified".

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