New Delhi: India is amending the rules for setting up and running medical colleges, in addition to recognizing medical practitioners trained in five more countries, including the US and the UK, in a bid to address the shortage of doctors in the country.
There is a “dire need of medical specialists to cater to the increasing demands of public health care” despite 271 medical colleges in the country, the health ministry said in a statement. Citing data from the Medical Council of India, or MCI, the registration body for doctors in the country, the ministry said there are 683,582 registered allopathic doctors in India. In addition, there are some 600,000 practitioners of Indian systems of medicine such as Ayurveda and Unani, as also homeopathy.
Critical condition: The intensive care unit for infants and children who undergo congenital heart surgery at the Escorts Heart Institute and Research Centre in New Delhi. The shortage of medical practitioners is such that states such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have just two doctors for 100,000 people.
Research by rating agency Crisil Ltd estimates that India has just six doctors for 10,000 of its people compared with the global average of 15. States such as Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand have just two doctors for 100,000 people. Countries such as the US, the UK and Canada have more than 20 doctors for every 10,000 of their respective populations, according to Crisil.
The Union ministry of health and family welfare is modifying some of the regulations under the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956, that will relax operating, staffing and land norms and make it easier to establish medical colleges in India. The ministry, in a notification dated 10 March, has already begun recognizing post-graduate medical qualifications awarded in five countries with English as a native language—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US. Medical degrees from Japan, Italy, the Netherlands, Germany, Ireland, Myanmar and Hong Kong are already recognized in India.
“We are changing MCI regulations to make setting up of medical colleges easier,” Naresh Dayal, secretary in the health ministry, told Mint. The Act currently requires 25 acres of land in one place for setting up a college and a 300-bed front-end hospital where students are trained.
The first condition could be relaxed to allow two plots of lands a few kilometres apart and any new college can link up with a district hospital close by, Dayal said, explaining how two key criteria for medical college could be eased up.
He even questioned the rationale of allowing corporate houses to set up hospitals and barring them from setting up medical colleges, but did not elaborate if the ministry planned a rule change there as well. For-profit companies are currently not allowed to set up these colleges; only non-profit organizations can do so.
Another senior ministry official added that the staffing requirements could be relaxed to allow a larger intake of students. The health care industry has welcomed the move. New Delhi-based Max Healthcare Institute Ltd’s executive director Mukesh Shivdasani said these measures would benefit hospitals and consumers, as well as those entering the profession. “Having Indian doctors from overseas will also give a fillip to medical tourism as foreign patients will be more comfortable coming down” for treatment, he said.
Max’s cross-town competitor, Fortis Healthcare Ltd, wants the basic undergraduate medical degree of the five English-speaking countries—Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the US—recognized as well. “These are good initiatives and will help in reducing the doctor shortage problem over the long term,” said Shivinder Singh, group managing director of Fortis.
He added that the land size and ratio of students to beds required—currently at 1:5—needed to be brought down. Both Fortis and Max have expressed their intent of setting up medical colleges.
While Fortis is making “headway” on its plans, Shivdasani said Max was in an “exploratory and preparatory” phase. Not everyone is pleased with the ministry’s move, though. Indian Medical Association secretary general S.N. Mishra said there should be reciprocity among the new countries recognized in terms of accepting Indian degrees in their hospitals.
P.C. Kesavankutty Nayar, MCI’s acting president, did not agree that there was a shortage of doctors in India. He said the problem lay in the uneven distribution of such professionals across states.