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On Thursday, President Ram Nath Kovind gave consent to a key legislation aimed at conducting in mega reforms in the medical education sector and replacing the nearly 63-year-old Indian Medical Council Act.
Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said that the National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill has passed by both houses of Parliament and will be notified in the gazette soon. After the notification, the rules will be framed and the NMC will be constituted for development and regulation of all aspects of medical education, profession and institutions. These modifications will be done within six months.
The NMC will substitute the scam-tainted Medical Council of India. The president had dissolved the MCI in 2018 only, and a Board of Governors was appointed to perform its functions.
Vardhan termed the NMC Act, a "progressive" legislation and it will ensure probity, quality education and reduce costs of medical education. It will also simplify procedures and provides wider access to people for quality healthcare.
Vardhan said referring to protests against certain provisions of the NMC Bill that medical students and residents’ doctors had few misunderstandings and misconceptions about certain provisions of the bill but have cleared their doubts.
The legislation provides for national entrance test - NEET with common counselling for MBBS, and a common final year MBBS exam, to be known as National Exit Test (NEXT), which will be applicable to all institutes and include those of national importance like AIIMS.
The NEXT results shall be the base for admission to PG courses and also obtain license to practice. It would also used as a screening test for foreign medical graduates. This provision will eradicate the need for students to approach multiple colleges and take part in multiple counselling processes for admission. This can save students and their families from unnecessary physical and financial trauma.
He also said that once a candidate clears NEXT, he can register himself and obtain a licence to practice. The Act will not impose any restriction on the number of attempts at NEXT for improving the grade for admission to PG courses.
The NMC will be an overarching body and will structure policies and coordinate activities of four autonomous boards and these boards will oversee after the work of UG and PG education, Medical Assessment and Rating and Ethics and Medical Registration. There will be 10 vice chancellors of state health universities and nine elected members of state medical councils in the NMC.
Hence, 19 out of 33 members, which is more than half of the total strength, would be from states and a minority of members will be appointed by the Central government thus ensuring NMC is representative, inclusive and respecting the federal structure of Indian polity. The NMC will have well-known medical personalities as members who will be appointed for only one term of four years and won’t be eligible for any further extension.
The members will also have to declare their professional and commercial engagement or involvement and it will be published on the website of the Commission. It has been further granted that chairperson/member on ceasing to hold office will not accept for a period of two years any employment in any capacity in a private medical institute whose matter has been dealt with them either directly or indirectly.
The Supreme Court had to pass orders for setting up of fees committees in each state to be chaired by retired high court judges due to lack of a regulatory mechanism. The health minister said that the deemed-to-be universities refused to submit before this committee and remained practically unregulated.
The Act will provide for regulation of fees and all other charges in 50 per cent seats in private colleges as well as deemed-to-be universities. Nearly 50 pc of the total MBBS seats in the country are in government colleges having nominal fees. Out of the remaining seats, 50 pc would be regulated by NMC.
Vardhan said that almost 75 pc of total seats in the country would be accessible at reasonable fees.
Dismissing fears about the clause 32 of the Act, he said it will support quackery; a provision has been made to register Community Health Providers (CHPs) who will be modern medicine professionals and not those who deal with any alternative system of medicine.
He stated that renowned doctors in NMC will decide their qualifications through regulations which will be finalized after extensive public consultation and discussion. The punishment for quackery has been increased to up to one year imprisonment and Rs 5 lakhs fine from the existing Rs 1000.