In a potentially controversial move, the Cabinet will on Wednesday take up the plan to institute a three-year BSc course for a mid-level health cadre in rural areas despite a no to the proposal by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Health.
The scheme is said to be close to Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad’s heart and it is for this reason, sources say, despite the Standing Committee putting its foot down, the government decided to push the proposal, allowing states not wanting to have the course in district hospitals, and by default the relevant cadre, to opt out. The BSc (community health) programme will give students rudimentary insight into topics like physiology and anatomy without going into elaborate details of a four-and-a-half-year medicine course.
The course has been hanging fire for long with doctors’ associations taking a strident position against it on the ground it would create a two-tier system of doctors with less qualified ones being pushed to rural areas creating an apartheid of sorts in the health system. Even the Medical Council of India (MCI), though officially towing the government line, has not been comfortable with the proposal.
It was to tackle this criticism that the health ministry, in what was widely viewed as a conciliatory move, renamed it the BSc (community health) programme instead of the original Bachelor of Rural Medicine and Surgery (BRMS) — a name the MCI was not comfortable with.
It was to quell protests that the process of framing the syllabus for the course was taken out of the MCI’s ambit and handed over to the National Board of Examinations. The Parliamentary panel in March put an end to efforts to push the course through. The panel said instead of creating a new pool of health professional whose mandate and education are grey areas, there should be a compulsory one-year rural posting for fresh medical graduates to meet shortage of doctors in rural areas.
“The government has taken a conscious decision not to go by recommendation of the standing committee. Instead, we are leaving it to states whether they want to start such a programme and institute a mid-level health cadre. For states willing to be part of this, we will provide the funding. Besides they will not be affiliated to MCI,” said a senior official.