Delhi High Court has given the Centre and Medical Council of India (MCI) six months to introduce a BSc course to prepare health workers who can practice modern medicine for treating common diseases in rural areas having no doctors, and warned that failure to do so would invite contempt proceedings.
Justice Manmohan issued the direction as the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as well as the MCI, the apex regulatory body of doctors, had not acted upon their 2010 undertaking given to the court to introduce BSc Community Health for creating healthcare workers and enabling them to provide primary healthcare in rural areas.
The HC said the Centre should consider bringing a new law along with any other option that it may deem appropriate in this regard.
"In the opinion of this court, once the central government has undertaken to introduce the BSc Community Health course, it must take the lead and give the course a firm legal footing and introduce it in institutions and universities run by the central government and also provide help to state governments to introduce the same.
"Also, once the syllabi, curriculum and course have been finalised and the graduate has been identified to treat a range of common diseases that are easily treatable at the primary level, there is no reason why he/she should not be allowed to practice independently," it said and listed the matter for hearing on March 9, 2016.
The court in its order also said that students who graduated in the course "have to be given a right to independently practice modern medicine to treat common diseases as identified in the curriculum to achieve the intent, purpose and objective behind the undertakings".
In 2010, the ministry had given an undertaking before the court that it had approved the introduction and implementation of a Bachelor of Rural Health Care course and it shall be given effect to within two months of MCI approving the syllabi.
MCI too had agreed to the suggestion of the ministry to introduce the new course and had said it would take a decision within two months with regard to its curriculum and syllabi.
Taking note of the statements made then, the court had in 2010 given the MCI and the ministry two months each to take the steps they had proposed.
The court in its order said the intent and purpose of the petition and the undertakings was "to fill the vacuum created by non-availability of registered medical practitioners in rural areas by permitting Bachelors of Rural Health Sciences to practice modern medicine to treat common diseases that are easily treatable at the primary level".
"If after introducing the course of BSc Community Health and determining its curriculum and syllabi, the graduates are not allowed to practice modern medicine in a limited way, then the intent and purpose of the petition and the undertakings given would be rendered nugatory. After all, the course was not to be introduced for statistical reasons," it added.
Giving six months time to the government and MCI to implement their undertakings given in 2010, the court also said, "The suggestion that a new Act with regard to BSc Community Health should be passed on the lines of the Indian Nursing Council Act, 1947, should be considered by the Union of India along with any other option that it may deem appropriate."
"The Medical Council of India should also prepare the syllabi and curriculum for the bridge course as undertaken before the division bench," it added.
MCI had, in 2010, stated before the court that the students who applied for the said course would be under an obligation to serve in the rural areas for a period of five years and thereafter if they undertook a bridge course for two years and qualify, then they would be treated as equivalent to MBBS.
The undertakings of 2010 had come during hearing of a plea moved in the high court in 2009 seeking implementation of recommendations of a government-appointed Task Force on Medical Education under the National Rural Health Mission.
The task force had recommended introduction of a new course which would radically restructure the health system and was likely to remedy the chronic shortage of health care professionals in rural areas.
Since the recommended course, as undertaken by the government and MCI, had not been introduced till date, a contempt plea was moved through advocate Prashant Bhushan against the officers concerned.