Following that, the National Consumer Commission has given the following verdict on the issue of hospitals hiring non-MBBS doctors: “When a patient is admitted in a hospital, it is done with the belief that the treatment given in the hospital is being given by qualified doctors under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956. It is not within the knowledge of the relatives of the patient that the patient is being treated by a Unani specialist. We hold that it is clear deficiency in service and negligence by the hospital for leaving the patient in the hands of a Unani doctor.”
This negligence can amount to legal action against the hospital in question. The act also forbids anyone other than a medical practitioner enrolled on a State Medical Register from practicing medicine in a state. Any person who flouts this shall be liable to punishment with imprisonment of one year or a fine of Rs 1,000 or both.
Under the National Rural Health Mission, AYUSH practitioners are supposed to be utilized for providing newborn care services, managing common childhood illnesses, providing counselling on family planning methods, and rendering services as skilled birth assistants.
However, it has become a common practice for allopathic hospitals to employ non-MBBS doctors (BUMS, BAMS, BIMS, BHMS degree holders) and AYUSH doctors, even in ICUs.
Since healthcare is a state subject, some states have different norms for non-MBBS doctors. These doctors are allowed to prescribe allopathic medicine in Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Gujarat, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Assam, and Uttarakhand.
In Madhya Pradesh itself, the state government had passed two bills in December 2016, paving way for AYUSH doctors to practice allopathy in primary healthcare centres (PHCs). Subsequently, more than 700 AYUSH doctors were employed in PHCs.
While some state governments may have made it legal, the medical community disapproves of the decision. For example, Karnataka government had issued a notice in January 2017, allowing AYUSH doctors to prescribe and administer allopathic medicines at PHCs and in emergency situations. However, the Karnataka chapter of the Indian Medical Association (IMA) objected to it and filed a petition in the court, challenging the government’s decision.
NMC Bill and opposition
The National Medical Commission (NMC) Bill, which seeks to replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) as the country’s medical education regulator, proposes to allow doctors trained in Indian Systems of Medicine to practice allopathy after clearing a six-month bridge course.
The proposal aims to address the shortage of doctors in India. According to the World Health Organization’s norm, a country should have one doctor for every 1,000 people. In India, the ratio is 1:1,674.
The IMA as well as the MCI are firmly against letting AYUSH doctors dabble in modern medicine after completing a bridge course. They believe such a move will promote quackery. The IMA had launched a nationwide strike when the NMC Bill was introduced a couple of months ago. Taking note of their concerns, the government had set up a parliamentary committee to look into the aspect of integrating modern medicine with homeopathy.
In its 136-page report, presented to the government this week, the committee has advised against including the provision of bridge course in the bill. It has said that state governments should be allowed to enhance the capabilities of their existing healthcare professionals, including AYUSH practitioners, nursing graduates, dental medicine graduates and pharmacists, to address their primary healthcare issues.
The government is not bound to follow the parliamentary committee’s recommendations. The government is studying these recommendations and is likely to announce its stance soon. The IMA president has stated that while the report vindicates the association’s stance, it does not address all of their concerns. He said the IMA would decide in a few days on how to proceed with their protest against the NMC Bill so that under-qualified non-MBBS doctors are not allowed to toy with modern medicine.
Namrata Gulati Sapra is a Mhow-based freelance writer and a member of 101Reporters.com, a pan-India network of grassroots reporters.