Education and health, widely accepted as mutually reinforcing by social scientists, have been grossly neglected by state and central governments, running the country into the ground and prompting a steady flight of capital and professionals. Against this dismal backdrop, the ruling Central government’s announcement on May 18 of the establishment of setting up of 17 new medical colleges nationally in the government and private sector has enthused monitors of the country’s medical education scene. The statutory body for medical education has also cleared the decks for increasing the seats available at the existing colleges.
Earlier while presenting the Union Budget 2018-19, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the Government intends to open 24 new medical colleges and hospitals over the course of the coming year, primarily by upgrading the existing hospitals in each district. According to Jaitley the objective behind this is to improve the “accessibility of quality of quality medical education and healthcare” throughout the country. The move would apparently ensure availability of one medical college for every three parliamentary constituencies, automatically translating to one medical college in every state. Opening additional medical colleges at undergrad level is also in conformity with the central government’s declared goal of improving doctor-population ratio from the current 0.63:1000 to the approved WHO norm of 1:1000.
Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, and Mizoram are currently the states which do not have any medical colleges of their own, while Sikkim lacks a Government medical college. Government medical colleges in the above four states have been under construction for the last two years through plans announced by the same Government few years back. If these under-construction colleges are included in the list of 24 is not clear yet. Inclusion of Union Territories in the list of upcoming medical colleges is also ambiguous. Lakshadweep and Daman & Diu still do not have medical colleges, although a medical college is now coming up in Dadra & Nagar Haveli.
The news of new medical colleges and increase in seats in the existing ones have been widely welcomed by academics and the medical fraternity in India. The construction of new medical colleges is going on in full swing, as they will start operations in 2019. With these new colleges there would be many more MBBS seats besides the existing ones in government and private medical colleges.
The proposed increase in the number of colleges and focus on improving the healthcare sector will be a welcome move considering the disparity in the number of students who aspire to get admission in medical colleges and the number of seats currently available in the country. As per the existing CBSE data, more than 11 lakh candidates appear annually in the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) which determines admissions to 90,000 undergraduate medical and dental seats across the country. Meeting the needs of medical aspirants will go a long way towards ensuring this gap between healthcare demand and supply is bridged.
As these colleges will be set up in the existing district hospitals, the state governments will have to upgrade the facilities at these institutes. The state health departments are already looking for principals to augment the hospitals to medical colleges. However, there are apprehensions among the medical teachers that senior teachers wouldn’t prefer to join the colleges which are located far from cities, and lack proper infrastructures.
The state medical bodies feel there’ll be a major demand for creating hostels and quarters to setting up laboratories, library, auditorium, lecture halls and research units. Though all of these hospitals are super-speciality hospitals, they lack several facilities, quarters are not adequate and there are no food stalls.
A hospital requires minimum 300 beds to start a medical college. For rural medical colleges, a campus of 25 acres is needed. According to Debasis Bhattacharyya, Head of the Directorate of Medical Education (DME), the department applied to the Centre and Medical Council Of India (MCI) for inspection and clearance in 2017 and has arranged infrastructure to meet the MCI guidelines so that the Council gave a heads up to start MBBS in the five above mentioned colleges in West Bengal.
MBBS aspirants have another reason to cheer this year as a number of private medical colleges will also begin operation in 2018, provided they gets the nod from the Medical Council of India.
The MCI has made it clear in its guidelines what a medical college should have the requisite infrastructure, media reports states that many of the medical colleges in the country do not meet these norms.
The Centre has granted Rs 499 crore for setting up these colleges in districts where no such institutions exist. While the Centre’s share is 60%, the state has to bear 40% recurring cost, including salaries of teachers and staffs. Now with this ambitious project given official clearance, the state medical and academic fraternities are keeping their fingers crossed that it won’t suffer the implementation delays for which the country has acquired a notorious reputation.
However, in June the Union Ministry of Health banned 82 medical colleges — 70 private and 12 government-run — from accepting students for the academic session 2018-19. The latest order means more than 10,000 seats out of the total 64,000 MBBS seats normally available will be blocked. This was announced after the CBSE declared the NEET results for 2018, ending the wait for nearly 16 lakh students.
The health ministry has also discarded the proposal of approving 68 new medical colleges including four in Bihar and two in West Bengal. These colleges were supposed to add 9,000 MBBS seats for the new academic year.
The announcement was made after the feedback from Medical Council of India (MCI), the apex regulatory body for medical education that assesses whether colleges have the required infrastructure, faculty and number of patients. The regulatory body mentioned “deficiencies” in the medical colleges and pointed out how a paucity of resources was thwarting India’s ambition to expand medical education.
The Jagat Prakash Nadda led health ministry has also discarded proposals from nine medical colleges including four government and five private colleges, to increase their seats to 100. The ministry also stopped 31 medical colleges from launching new super speciality courses — such as those in cardiology, nephrology, plastic surgery — or increasing seats in their existing medical courses.
Well known government colleges feature in the above list including Lucknow’s King George Medical College University, stopped from expanding or starting MCh (Plastic & Reconstructive Surgery) and MCh (Neurosurgery), Christian Medical College Vellore, disallowed courses in MCh (Reproductive Medicine& Surgery), DM (Nephrology), DM (Pediatrics Neurology), Institute of Liver and Biliary Sciences, New Delhi, disallowed DM (Hepatology), MCh (HPB Surgery) and DM (Pediatrics Hepatology) etc. The decrease in medical seats is going to affect the future of aspiring medical students and also take blow on the medical education of the country.