In March, a parliamentary committee report delivered a scathing indictment of the Medical Council of India’s (MCI) functioning. The recommendations of the 126-page report form the crux of a proposed bill to overhaul medical regulation in the country: The National Medical Commission Bill. The draft bill that was open for suggestion till August 31, proposes a new authority to register and monitor doctors, and regulate medical education. These functions are currently performed by the MCI. The council has representatives from the government and the medical fraternity. Senates of medical colleges elect their representatives to the MCI.
The National Medical Commission Bill does away with elected members. Its emphasis on government-nominated regulators, in place of elected ones, derives from the recommendations of the parliamentary committee to which it owes its genesis. The committee was critical of the MCI’s elected medical professionals and argued that they represented the interests of private medicine. The MCI has been dogged by corruption charges over the past 15 years. In 2010, secretary, Ketan Desai, was arrested on the charge of accepting a bribe in return for recognising a private college.
The report came down heavily on the medical fraternity’s privilege of self-regulation and the proposed bill has virtually sounded the death knell for this privilege. The MCI was modelled on Britain’s General Medical Council (GMC), which prides itself on its autonomy from the government. But similarities must end here. The GMC lays great store on transparency. The council’s website, for example, has interactive guides that explain patient’s rights, it allows complaints against doctors, facilitates legal and other kinds of support to complainants. The MCI’s website, in comparison, seems an hastily assembled compilation of rules. But rather than goading the council towards transparency, the National Medical Commission Bill tries to scuttle the autonomy of the medical regulatory authority. This is a dangerous path. If other institutions are anything to go by, nominating members in India usually tantamounts to the ruling party rewarding its loyalists.
Transparency is recognised as the lynchpin of medical regulation worldwide. The MCI gave up on this principle. But the new bill does nothing to mend matters.