New Delhi: The Union cabinet has approved a common final MBBS exam across the country to be called the National Exit Test (NEXT) and left it to states to decide whether practitioners from alternative health systems may prescribe modern medicines.
The cabinet, in a meeting on Wednesday chaired by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, approved these amendments in the National Medical Commission (NMC) bill that seeks to create a new regulatory body for medicine to replace the Medical Council of India.
The cabinet has also approved an amendment to provide for one-year imprisonment and a fine up to Rs 5 lakh for “any unauthorised practice of medicine”, a move that the health ministry said was intended to address concerns about the safety in health care and take strict action against quackery.
The amendments follow recommendations by a parliamentary standing committee that had rejected the bill’s proposal for a separate national licentiate exam for MBBS doctors to be able to practice medicine. The standing committee had called for the final-year MBBS exam to serve as the licentiate exam.
The amendment would mean MBBS final-year students in colleges across the country would have a common exit exam.
The cabinet has also accepted the standing committee’s recommendation that the government regulate fees of up to 50 per cent of seats in private medical colleges and not 40 per cent as originally proposed in the bill.
The cabinet has also approved an amendment that removes the provision of a “bridge course” proposed in the original bill to allow practitioners of ayurveda and homeopathy, among other alternative forms of medicine, to prescribe modern medicines.
The provision had generated intense controversy with the Indian Medical Association (IMA), the country’s largest body of doctors, calling it a move that would legalise quackery.
In the amendments approved by the cabinet on Wednesday, it has been left to state governments to take necessary measures to address and promote primary health care in rural areas.
The amendments also include an increase in the number of state representatives in the NMC – the nominees of states and Union territories in the NMC has been increased from three to six. The NMC will be made up of 25 members of which at least 21 will be doctors, the government said.
The cabinet has also amended a clause in the bill relating to monetary penalties on medical colleges that do not meet standards to introduce multiple options of warnings, reasonable monetary penalties, reducing intake of students, stoppage of admission and withdrawal of recognition.
The head of the IMA, a body of about 280,000 doctors, said the association was “happy” with the amendments, but would be keen to wait for the fine print of the amended bill.
“We are happy the government has eliminated the proposals for a separate licentiate exam and the bridge course. These were among our main demands,” the IMA’s national president, Ravi Wankhedkar, told The Telegraph.
“The government has also announced punishment for quackery – but we would still like to see the final bill. We want to understand how the doctors who are to be members of the NMC will be selected,” Wankhedkar said.
Members of the IMA had earlier expressed concern that the NMC would primarily be made up of doctors appointed by the government and not elected by their own representatives.