Medical science is a much too specialised discipline and does not lend scope for cutting corners. This is quite the most charitable construct that can be placed on the Bill that was tabled in Parliament last Friday, to bridge the gap between allopathy on the one hand and homoeopathy, ayurveda, unani, and siddha at another remove. The legislative initiative is distinctly a bow in the direction of tradition ~ the flavour of the season ~ and fairly implicit is the anxiety to blend the traditional with the modern, indeed an effort to bring “other systems” of medicine into mainstream healthcare. Hence the cavil of the Indian Medical Association that the bridge-course proposal is “an opportunity for traditional healers to make a backdoor entry into modern medicine”. Towards that end, the bill provides for a “bridge course”, one that is unlikely to benefit either tradition or modernity. This is arguably the worst of both worlds. It will be difficult for the allopathic fraternity to readily concur with the proposal on a short-cut intended to “enhance the interface” between the two systems. Tuesday’s strike by doctors, though much to the detriment of patients across the country, was an expression of no-confidence in the legislation. One must give it to West Bengal’s health department, however, that at least the outpatients’ departments (OPDs) in state hospitals were open for day-care.
There can be no short-cuts in the teaching and learning of medical science, not to forget diagnosis and treatment. To say this is not to cast doubts on the efficacy of the various other branches of medicine; only to underline the fact that the risk of the patient suffering as a consequence of this mish-mash is dangerously real. Not wholly unfounded are fears that the proposed system will serve to reinforce quackery; in Kolkata, for instance, quacks have been arrested for attending to a wide range of patients, including those suffering from cancer. It would be tragic if medical science is reduced to a matter for police action… and so it has been in many parts of the country. The nub of the matter must be that not many patients, let alone allopaths, have faith in the traditional system, however effective it sometimes is. Given the generally decrepit state of public health, most particularly in rural India, it would be utterly disingenuous to tinker with so critical an aspect of public policy.

The striking facet of the Bill, that will be readily endorsed, is the proposal to set up the National Medical Commission ~ a new regulatory entity that will replace the Medical Council of India (MCI) that has for long been accused of corruption and inaction in the face of unethical practices by doctors, and lack of transparency in its functioning. While pluralism in many other spheres of national life is to be welcomed, there is little or no scope for medical pluralism.