Pour strong medicine: Government must move quickly to replace MCI, India’s failed medical regulator

The scathing indictment of Medical Council of India (MCI) which regulates medical education and professional practice, by Parliament’s Standing Committee on Health, was long overdue. Health matters to everybody and no matter how much money government spends on this sector, much of it will be wasted if we have too few doctors, huge regional imbalances in their distribution and serious question marks on the quality of their medical education. Blaming MCI for “total system failure” in the medical education system, the 31-member parliamentary committee, in its 92nd report, has rightly called for restructuring it altogether by junking the “outdated” 1956 legislation that governs it, and asking for a new law “at the earliest”.
The report’s findings are alarming. First, India has far fewer doctors than the WHO recommended minimum doctor population ratio of 1:1000. Second, six states with 31% of the population account for 58% of MBBS seats, while eight states with 46% of Indians have just 21% MBBS seats. Third, quality of medical education “is at its lowest ebb” and the current system is not producing the “right type of medical professionals”. Like a license-raj permit controller, MCI has for long focussed too much on licensing of medical colleges and stipulating impractical conditions, while ignoring its other mandate of maintaining ethical conduct in the profession. The panel is, therefore, right to recommend immediate bifurcation of these two main responsibilities.
The problem is that somewhat like BCCI in cricket, MCI so far has been driven more by its constituents’ interests than national health needs. This must change. The need for reform, as the committee rightly argues, is “so urgent that it cannot be deferred any longer”. As more and more Indians go sick, the government can no longer look away.

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