Seven years after the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate and postgraduate medical courses across the country was conceived, the country is still struggling to implement it even after the Supreme Court ruled in its favour.
The Centre eventually succumbed to strong political pressure against NEET and partially circumvented the court orders for this year by bringing in an ordinance. The ordinance must have been promulgated with a guilty conscience.
NEET would be the best thing in India in terms of training medical professionals and leading to affordable healthcare across the country. Once NEET becomes a reality, there will be a uniform nationwide entrance test for all medical colleges, both government and private, serving the dual purpose of producing the best doctors and reducing the cost of healthcare.
If medical treatment has become highly unaffordable for the general public, it is primarily because of the commercialisation of the medical services. Thanks to mushrooming of scores of private medical colleges, whose promoters by virtue of their power have turned these institutes into “deemed universities”, the quality of medical education has come down drastically. In private medical colleges, the paying capacity of a student gets precedence over his merit and capability to become a doctor. Naturally, someone who invests crores of rupees in getting an MBBS and PG admission will try to earn and recover it back with handsome returns. This leads to shooting up of medical costs and unethical practices and the vicious cycle never ends. NEET will break this cycle, as merit will take precedence over profit.
Given the quantum of money involved in private medical education, and given the fact that it has been monopolised by a handful of people, about 80 of whom are MPs ranging from across the political spectrum, any attempt to break this cycle and system will be strongly resisted. It is being resisted today and it will be resisted tomorrow as well.
Some states’ have come out with the argument that it infringes on their federal rights since education is a state subject. Others have objected to NEET saying the syllabus will be based on the CBSE course, hence those studying through state boards will be at a disadvantage. First, education is on the Concurrent List and the Centre is creating a system in the interest of every citizen.
The second argument that the students studying through state boards will be at a disadvantage can also be corrected. Nothing stops the state boards to adopt a uniform syllabus at a par with the CBSE, but it may take some time. For achieving the noble goal of offering the best medical treatment in the country at affordable prices, the government needs to take some tough decisions. There must not be any unjustified concessions, like relaxing the norms for relatively less competent students to become doctors, at least in medical education as it eventually becomes a matter of life and death.
These objections, however, are only furnished to delay and postpone NEET at the behest of the vested interests, who do not want to lose crores of rupees they make through admissions by way of capitation fees and donations every year. The more we try to delay the NEET, the more we will allow medical corruption to flourish because, medical corruption is the reason and is at the root of the strong opposition to NEET.
It is not that good doctors are not being produced in the country right now, but there are a large number of doctors getting certificates with highest scores but with little or no medical knowledge. It is such types of doctors who are a double whammy for the system. On the one hand, they become the reason for increased healthcare costs, while at the same time they are thoroughly incompetent – a fact highlighted recently by a parliamentary standing committee as well. NEET will eliminate the chances of such people becoming doctors as no matter how much money you can afford, if you are not capable of cracking NEET, you cannot become a doctor. With NEET, if you are competent and capable, nobody can stop you from becoming a good doctor.
Though NEET was an initiative of the Medical Council of India (MCI), yet the role played by MCI and other state medical councils are questionable, after they ended up colluding with the cash rich “private medical education” industry. The onus now lies on the governments – Central and states - to appoint people of impeccable integrity to these councils so that they are run professionally. The members of these councils should not act as representatives of the vested interests, but as watchdogs, the actual role they are supposed to perform. Besides, the MCI and state medical councils must be completely autonomous in their functioning to retain their independence in regulatory duties.
(The writer is president, Punjab Medical Council)