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Explained: The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017

January 2nd, 2018 5 comments

The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 was introduced in Lok Sabha recently and is listed for consideration and passage today.[1]  The Bill seeks to regulate medical education and practice in India.  To meet this objective, the Bill repeals the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956 and dissolves the current Medical Council of India (MCI).  The MCI was established under the 1956 Act, to establish uniform standards of higher education qualifications in medicine and regulating its practice.[2]

A Committee was set up in 2016, under the NITI Aayog with Dr. Arvind Panagariya as its chair, to review the 1956 Act and recommend changes to improve medical education and the quality of doctors in India.[3]  The Committee proposed that the Act be replaced by a new law, and also proposed a draft Bill in August 2016.

This post looks at the key provisions of the National Medical Commission Bill, 2017 introduced in Lok Sabha recently, and some issues which have been raised over the years regarding the regulation of medical education and practice in the country.

What are the key issues regarding the regulation of medical education and practice?

Several experts have examined the functioning of the MCI and suggested a different structure and governance system for its regulatory powers.3,[4]  Some of the issues raised by them include:

Separation of regulatory powers

Over the years, the MCI has been criticised for its slow and unwieldy functioning owing to the concentration and centralisation of all regulatory functions in one single body.  This is because the Council regulates medical education as well as medical practice.  In this context, there have been recommendations that all professional councils like the MCI, should be divested of their academic functions, which should be subsumed under an apex body for higher education to be called the National Commission for Higher Education and Research.[5]  This way there would be a separation between the regulation of medical education from regulation of medical practice.

An Expert Committee led by Prof. Ranjit Roy Chaudhury (2015), recommended structurally reconfiguring the MCI’s functions and suggested the formation of a National Medical Commission through a new Act.3   Here, the National Medical Commission would be an umbrella body for supervision of medical education and oversight of medial practice.  It will have four segregated verticals under it to look at: (i) under-graduate medical education, (ii) post-graduate medical education, (iii) accreditation of medical institutions, and (iv) the registration of doctors.  The 2017 Bill also creates four separate autonomous bodies for similar functions.

Composition of MCI

With most members of the MCI being elected, the NITI Aayog Committee (2016) noted the conflict of interest where the regulated elect the regulators, preventing the entry of skilled professionals for the job.  The Committee recommended that a framework must be set up under which regulators are appointed through an independent selection process instead.

Fee Regulation 

The NITI Aayog Committee (2016) recommended that a medical regulatory authority, such as the MCI, should not engage in fee regulation of private colleges.  Such regulation of fee by regulatory authorities may encourage an underground economy for medical education seats with capitation fees (any payment in excess of the regular fee), in regulated private colleges.  Further, the Committee stated that having a fee cap may discourage the entry of private colleges limiting the expansion of medical education in the country.

Professional conduct

The Standing Committee on Health (2016) observed that the present focus of the MCI is only on licensing of medical colleges.4  There is no emphasis given to the enforcement of medical ethics in education and on instances of corruption noted within the MCI.  In light of this, the Committee recommended that the areas of medical education and medical practice should be separated in terms of enforcement of the appropriate ethics for each of these stages.

What does the National Medical Commission, 2017 Bill seek do to?

The 2017 Bill sets up the National Medical Commission (NMC) as an umbrella regulatory body with certain other bodies under it. The NMC will subsume the MCI and will regulate the medical education and practice in India.   Under the Bill, states will establish their respective State Medical Councils within three years.  These Councils will have a role similar to the NMC, at the state level.

Functions of the NMC include: (i) laying down policies for regulating medical institutions and medical professionals, (ii) assessing the requirements of human resources and infrastructure in healthcare, (iii) ensuring compliance by the State Medical Councils with the regulations made under the Bill, and (iv) framing guidelines for determination of fee for up to 40% of the seats in the private medical institutions and deemed universities which are governed by the Bill.

Who will be a part of the NMC?

The NMC will consist of 25 members, appointed by the central government.  It will include representatives from Indian Council of Medical Research, and Directorate General of Health Services. A search committee will recommend names to the central government for the post of Chairperson, and the part-time members.  These posts will have a maximum term of four years, and will not be eligible for extension or reappointment.

What are the regulatory bodies being set up under the NMC?

The Bill sets up four autonomous boards under the supervision of the NMC, as recommended by various experts.  Each autonomous board will consist of a President and two members, appointed by the central government (on the recommendation of the search committee).  These bodies are:

  • The Under-Graduate Medical Education Board (UGMEB) and the Post-Graduate Medical Education Board (PGMEB): These two bodies will be responsible for formulating standards, curriculum, guidelines, and granting recognition to medical qualifications at the under-graduate and post-graduate levels respectively;
  • The Medical Assessment and Rating Board: The Board will have the power to levy monetary penalties on institutions which fail to maintain the minimum standards as laid down by the UGMEB and the PGMEB.  It will also grant permissions for establishing new medical colleges; and
  • The Ethics and Medical Registration Board: The Board will maintain a National Register of all licensed medical practitioners, and regulate professional conduct.  Only those included in the Register will be allowed to practice as doctors.

What does the Bill say regarding the conduct of medical entrance examinations?

There will be a uniform National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to under-graduate medical education in all medical institutions governed by the Bill.  The NMC will specify the manner of conducting common counselling for admission in all such medical institutions.

Further, there will be a National Licentiate Examination for the students graduating from medical institutions to obtain the license for practice.  This Examination will also serve as the basis for admission into post-graduate courses at medical institutions.

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[1] The National Medical Commission Bill, 2017, http://www.prsindia.org/uploads/media/medical%20commission/National%20Medical%20Commission%20Bill,%202017.pdf.

[2] Indian Medical Council Act, 1933.

[3] A Preliminary Report of the Committee on the Reform of the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, NITI Aayog, August 7, 2016, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/MCI%20Report%20.pdf.

[4] “Report no. 92: Functioning of the Medical Council of India”, Standing Committee on Health and Family Welfare, March 8, 2016, http://164.100.47.5/newcommittee/reports/EnglishCommittees/Committee%20on%20Health%20and%20Family%20Welfare/92.pdf

[5] “Report of the Committee to Advise on Renovation and Rejuvenation of Higher Education”, Ministry of Human Resource Development, 2009, http://mhrd.gov.in/sites/upload_files/mhrd/files/document-reports/YPC-Report.pdf.

Malnutrition in India: The National Nutrition Strategy explained

September 8th, 2017 1 comment

In the recent past, there has been a renewed discussion around nutrition in India.  A few months ago, the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare had released the National Health Policy, 2017.[1]  It highlighted the negative impact of malnutrition on the population’s productivity, and its contribution to mortality rates in the country.  In light of the long term effects of malnutrition, across generations, the NITI Aayog released the National Nutrition Strategy this week.  This post presents the current status of malnutrition in India and measures proposed by this Strategy.

What is malnutrition?

Malnutrition indicates that children are either too short for their age or too thin.[2]  Children whose height is below the average for their age are considered to be stunted.  Similarly, children whose weight is below the average for their age are considered thin for their height or wasted.  Together, the stunted and wasted children are considered to be underweight – indicating a lack of proper nutritional intake and inadequate care post childbirth.

What is the extent of malnutrition in India?

India’s performance on key malnutrition indicators is poor according to national and international studies.  According to UNICEF, India was at the 10th spot among countries with the highest number of underweight children, and at the 17th spot for the highest number of stunted children in the world.[3]

Malnutrition affects chances of survival for children, increases their susceptibility to illness, reduces their ability to learn, and makes them less productive in later life.[4]   It is estimated that malnutrition is a contributing factor in about one-third of all deaths of children under the age of 5.[5]  Figure 1 looks at the key statistics on malnutrition for children in India.

Figure 1: Malnutrition in children under 5 years (2005-06 and 2015-16)

NFHS Survey

Sources: National Family Health Survey 3 & 4; PRS.

Over the decade between 2005 and 2015, there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of underweight children in India, mainly on account of an improvement in stunting.  While the percentage of stunted children under 5 reduced from 48% in 2005-06 to 38.4% in 2015-16, there has been a rise in the percentage of children who are wasted from 19.8% to 21% during this period.[6],[7]  A high increase in the incidence of wasting was noted in Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Sikkim.[8]

The prevalence of underweight children was found to be higher in rural areas (38%) than urban areas (29%). According to WHO, infants weighing less than 2.5 Kg are 20 times more likely to die than heavier babies.2  In India, the national average weight at birth is less than 2.5 Kg for 19% of the children.  The incidence of low birth-weight babies varied across different states, with Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh witnessing the highest number of underweight childbirths at 23%.[9]

Further, more than half of India’s children are anaemic (58%), indicating an inadequate amount of haemoglobin in the blood.  This is caused by a nutritional deficiency of iron and other essential minerals, and vitamins in the body.2

Is malnutrition witnessed only among children?

No.  Among adults, 23% of women and 20% of men are considered undernourished in India.  On the other hand, 21% of women and 19% of men are overweight or obese.  The simultaneous occurrence of over nutrition and under-nutrition indicates that adults in India are suffering from a dual burden of malnutrition (abnormal thinness and obesity).  This implies that about 56% of women and 61% of men are at normal weight for their height.

What does the National Nutrition Strategy propose?

Various government initiatives have been launched over the years which seek to improve the nutrition status in the country.  These include the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the National Health Mission, the Janani Suraksha Yojana, the Matritva Sahyog Yojana, the Mid-Day Meal Scheme, and the National Food Security Mission, among others.  However, concerns regarding malnutrition have persisted despite improvements over the years.  It is in this context that the National Nutrition Strategy has been released.  Key features of the Strategy include:8

  • The Strategy aims to reduce all forms of malnutrition by 2030, with a focus on the most vulnerable and critical age groups. The Strategy also aims to assist in achieving the targets identified as part of the Sustainable Development Goals related to nutrition and health.
  • The Strategy aims to launch a National Nutrition Mission, similar to the National Health Mission. This is to enable integration of nutrition-related interventions cutting across sectors like women and child development, health, food and public distribution, sanitation, drinking water, and rural development.
  • A decentralised approach will be promoted with greater flexibility and decision making at the state, district and local levels. Further, the Strategy aims to strengthen the ownership of Panchayati Raj institutions and urban local bodies over nutrition initiatives.  This is to enable decentralised planning and local innovation along with accountability for nutrition outcomes.
  • The Strategy proposes to launch interventions with a focus on improving healthcare and nutrition among children. These interventions will include: (i) promotion of breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, (ii) universal access to infant and young child care (including ICDS and crèches), (iii) enhanced care, referrals and management of severely undernourished and sick children, (iv) bi-annual vitamin A supplements for children in the age group of 9 months to 5 years, and (v) micro-nutrient supplements and bi-annual de-worming for children.
  • Measures to improve maternal care and nutrition include: (i) supplementary nutritional support during pregnancy and lactation, (ii) health and nutrition counselling, (iii) adequate consumption of iodised salt and screening of severe anaemia, and (iv) institutional childbirth, lactation management and improved post-natal care.
  • Governance reforms envisaged in the Strategy include: (i) convergence of state and district implementation plans for ICDS, NHM and Swachh Bharat, (ii) focus on the most vulnerable communities in districts with the highest levels of child malnutrition, and (iii) service delivery models based on evidence of impact.

[1] National Health Policy, 2017, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, March 16, 2017, http://mohfw.nic.in/showfile.php?lid=4275

[2] Nutrition in India, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, 2005-06, http://rchiips.org/nfhs/nutrition_report_for_website_18sep09.pdf

[3] Unstarred Question No. 2759, Lok Sabha, Answered on March 17, 2017, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/11/AU2759.pdf

[4] Helping India Combat Persistently High Rates of Malnutrition, The World Bank, May 13, 2013, http://www.worldbank.org/en/news/feature/2013/05/13/helping-india-combat-persistently-high-rates-of-malnutrition

[5] Unstarred Question No. 4902, Lok Sabha, Answered on December 16, 2016, http://164.100.47.190/loksabhaquestions/annex/10/AU4902.pdf

[6] National Family Health Survey – 3, 2005-6, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare http://rchiips.org/nfhs/pdf/India.pdf

[7] National Family Health Survey – 4 , 2015-16, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, http://rchiips.org/NFHS/pdf/NFHS4/India.pdf

[8] National Nutrition Strategy, 2017, NITI Aayog, September 2017, http://niti.gov.in/writereaddata/files/document_publication/Nutrition_Strategy_Booklet.pdf

[9] Rapid Survey On Children, Ministry of Women and Child Development, 2013-14, http://wcd.nic.in/sites/default/files/RSOC%20National%20Report%202013-14%20Final.pdf